Are We Alone?

dark matter composite image from HubbleSite

This Hubble Space Telescope composite image shows a ghostly “ring” of dark matter in the galaxy cluster Cl 0024+17 /Photo: HubbleSite

“Are We Alone?” is a common question we ponder as we gaze at the stars. But it rings equally true as we yearn to find others who share our interests and curiosities.

At yet another successful installment of Forward Chicago’s Astrophysics For All series on Nov. 3, University of Chicago Assistant Professor Daniel Fabrycky led us through the topic of planetary solar systems that lie outside of our own — what the scientists like to call “exoplanets.”

Professor Dan shared a down-to-earth description of the highly complex techniques that he and other scientists are using to find, confirm and measure the properties of new stars, planets and their systems.

It took us thousands of years just to find the seven other planets in our solar system. Then, 20 years ago, scientists found a planet orbiting another nearby star. Since that event, things have accelerated rapidly.

The international science community now recognizes more than 5,000 suspected exoplanets, with almost 2,000 of those already confirmed using recently advanced telescope optics, space-based observation, and a suite of discovery and measurement techniques. And almost half of these 2,000 were confirmed within the past two years!

This event featured a highly engaged group of attendees and vigorous question-and-answer sessions throughout. And Dr. Dan even related the similarities of a fictitious “Star Wars” movie version of a two-star solar system to that of a recently confirmed two-star solar system that actually exists.

The many highlights included discussions about the possibility life on other planets. Professor Dan noted that it will likely take “many decades” and “a multi-generational effort” to pursue the space travel necessary to reach other solar systems, and ultimately, nearby exoplanets.

So … Are we alone? Join your fellow astrophysics enthusiasts and friends to find out.

Our journey continues on Nov. 14 at Sulzer Library, when Hugh Lippincott, an associate fellow at the University of Chicago Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, presents on the topic of dark matter. The free discussion is scheduled for 10 to 11:30 a.m. All ages welcome!

Plus: Read a post Hugh Lippincott wrote several years ago to explain dark matter to his mom…

About Jeff Robison

Jeff is a DePaul neighborhood resident focused on seniors' interests and issues. With wife Ausra, he is co-founder of LincolnPark FamilyCare, providing local non-medical, in-home care to seniors. Jeff can often be found enjoying the company of others on Chicago's North Side, working to spark social, educational, and needs-based community involvement. An avid hunter-and-pecker, he admits to having no writing skills whatsoever.

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