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Lecture here by top Nasa scientist

Opinion Piece

This Monday (9th October), one of the top scientists at Nasa will be speaking to the Gisborne public. It will be an excellent opportunity for locals to listen to a lecture by a young female scientist that Time Magazine voted one of the 100 most influential people on the planet for 2017!

Dr Natalie Batalha works at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre and will be speaking on “A Planet for Goldilocks: The Search for Evidence of Life Beyond Earth”. This area of astronomy is and will be the most exciting and cutting edge topic for many years to come.

The last international astronomer that the Gisborne Astronomical Society (and the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand) got to speak was Professor Gerry Gilmore. Gerry attracted 230 people — pretty good for Gisborne. We hope Natalie will do a similar thing. This is a major scientific event for Gisborne and it would be excellent to see as many people there as possible.

A selection of stunning astrophotos taken from Gisborne by locals will also be shown — and we’ll also mention the Cook Observatory scenario.

The first exoplanet (a planet orbiting a star outside of our solar system) was discovered in 1995. Since then the number of confirmed exoplanet discoveries is about 3670. It seems that whenever we investigate a sun-like star, we find a planet.

There are a number of ways of detecting exoplanets. Dr Batalha specialises in using the Kepler Space Telescope to detect the extremely faint drop in star brightness as that star’s planet transits it. She will speak about the Kepler mission, how it has discovered the most exoplanets out of all methods, and what the chances of finding life on a planet that’s not too hot or too cold is — hence “finding the Goldilocks’ planet”.

Gisborne also has a link to exoplanet discoveries, with one of our members working with Ohio State University as part of a team to discover planets using the gravitational microlensing method — a phenomena that Albert Einstein predicted in the 1910s.

Dr Batalha has been brought to New Zealand as part of the Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture Trust run by the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (www.rasnz.org). This trust, established to celebrate the life of New Zealander Beatrice Hill Tinsley, brings a prominent astronomer to New Zealand once a year to do a lecture tour. Gisborne is one of eight cities to get Dr Batalha.

Beatrice Hill Tinsley got her doctorate in Texas in 1966. Her thesis was on the “Evolution of Galaxies and its Significance for Cosmology”. It was called “extraordinary and profound” by her professors and her work influenced our understanding of the size and expansion of the Universe. In 1978, she became the first professor of astronomy at Yale University! Mount Tinsley near Lake Te Anau is named after her — as is Asteroid 3087 (Beatrice Tinsley).

Dr Batalha will speak at the War Memorial Theatre on October 9 from 7pm. There is a $10 entry ($5 for children under 15). There is no eftpos available, so it will be cash door sales on the night.

John Drummond