March 21, 2019. Our program featured Todd Sullivan, an advanced amateur astronomer who serves as a NASA Ambassador. His early fascination with the work of Carl Sagan did not translate into a career path, but his fascination with astronomy never waned.
Relative to space, our solar system is not very impressive. Todd describes our position as being in the backwoods of space. Technically, we are located in the Orion Arm, which is a minor spiral arm of the Milky Way some 3,500 light-years across and approximately 10,000 light-years in length, containing the Solar System, including the Earth.
He gave us an overview of the methods and progress in the quest to discover a second Earth. The Kepler space telescope stared directly at a select portion of the sky for 4-5 years. This sample extended outward from the Earth for a distance of 3,000 light years. The telescope monitored activity around 150,000 stars. Planets that passed across the face of the stars were recorded. This experiment confirmed 3,500 planets. The fact that this many planets were discovered in this relatively tiny portion of the sky leads scientists to predict the possibility of 100 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy.
Future experiments will need a much stronger telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb) will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. The telescope will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in 2021.Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. Todd hopes to bring his passion for astronomy to the City of Easton with a SpaceFest scheduled for July 20.