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Gerald Soffen Lecture Series: Dr. Avi Mandell
 

Investigating Worlds Around Other Stars: Progress Towards the Discovery of Another 'Earth'


Come to the Visitor Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. on Thursday, May 10, 2012, at 7 p.m., to hear research scientist Dr. Avi Mandell lead the next installment of the Soffen Lecture Series, titled "Investigating Worlds Around Other Stars: Progress Towards the Discovery of Another 'Earth.'"

Avi Mandell

Image courtesy Avi Mandell

Since humankind's first realization that the pinpricks of light in the night sky were actually distant suns, we have dreamed of the day when we might discover a distant planet with the first evidence of alien life. When concrete evidence for the first planets beyond our solar system was announced in the early 1990s, we began a race to develop the technological and scientific breakthroughs to achieve this goal. We are now in a new era of precision measurements of the size and orbital motion of giant planets around other stars, and our discoveries continue to defy expectations.

In this talk Mandell will describe the exciting journey from the discovery of the first planet orbiting a sun-like star up through NASA's current efforts to tease out the atmospheric structure and composition of the exotic menagerie of planets discovered to date. Mandell will then move on to the next generation of discovery using space-based telescopes, such as the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, and ground-based telescopes approaching the size of half a football field. These extremely sensitive observatories will allow detection and remote exploration of planets as small as Earth. Mandell will map out the path that may eventually lead humankind to the first discovery of a habitable planet beyond the oasis of our own planetary system.

Dr. Avi M. Mandell was first drawn to the study of extrasolar planets through his graduate work in the field of astrobiology, or the study of evolution and distribution of life in the universe. He obtained his Ph. D. from Penn State University in 2007, and has worked at NASA Goddard both as a post-doctoral research fellow and now as a civil servant research scientist. His research interests also encompass the formation and evolution of planetary systems, and he has developed both modeling and observational techniques to study protoplanetary disks and planets at infrared wavelengths. He has also published several articles in popular astronomy magazines, and has worked on a number of educational science initiatives related to the origins of planetary systems and the search for life in the universe.

During his 30-year NASA career, Dr. Gerald Soffen (1926-2000) led the science team for NASA's Viking program, was Director of Life Sciences at NASA Headquarters, Project scientist for NASA's Earth Observing System, and created NASA Academy, NASA's premiere leadership training internship. The Viking 2 lander was posthumously named after Dr. Soffen and a crater on Mars was named "Soffen." He was best known, however, for his passion for inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the lecture will start promptly at 7 p.m. Space is limited. Advance registration (by using the form below) is strongly encouraged. Pre-registration will be open until Tuesday, May 8 at 5pm. Visitors are still welcome to attend without pre-registration, but please note that attendees who have submitted pre-registration forms will have priority for seating, and that overflow seating may be required to accommodate all guests. Directions to Goddard's Visitor Center can be found here.

Pre-registration for the Gerald Soffen Lecture Series is now closed. Visitors are still welcome to attend without pre-registration. Please note that attendees who have submitted pre-registration forms will have priority for seating, and that overflow seating may be required to accommodate all guests.