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Webster Cash at Café Sci2

Starshades: The Search for Habitable Planets and Life in the Universe
(or, How a Really Large Umbrella might Reveal the Future Home of Mankind)

Monday 21 February 2011, 6:30 PM, at Brooklyn's near LoDo Denver


About the topic

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WebDr. Webster Cash is Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences  &
Professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He decided to forego his interest in medieval history at the age of 8 years when his parents took him to a public lecture on Project Ozma the first SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) project. A few years later, as a freshman at MIT he became an X-ray Astronomer and joined the ranks of Space Scientists, helping in the search for Black Holes. He graduated in Physics in 1973 and moved to the University of California at Berkeley where he completed his PhD in Physics, launching the first imaging Extreme Ultraviolet telescope on a sounding rocket. In 1979 he joined the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado where he has remained to this day, helping found the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy and even taking a turn as Department Chair.

Web loves space hardware. He believes that new instrumentation provides the key to new observations and new understanding of the Universe. He has spent much of his career building and flying sounding rockets with advanced instrumentation for space astronomy. He trains students in the hands-on art of developing space technology. On his quirkier days he likes to think of himself as a kind of Yoda: "For 800 years, Rocket Scientists have I trained."

Web lives in Boulder with Cindy, his wife of 30 years. They have three grown children, two of whom have run off to the Big Apple while the other is completing law school in Denver.

About the topic


Prof Cash will talk about his work in direct detection of exoplanets, developing a new and more effective means of finding and studying the planets around the nearby stars. He hopes to give you a glimpse of the future of space exploration.
We now have techniques on the ground that allow us to infer the presence of "exoplanets" through careful observation of the parent star. But these techniques tell us nothing more than the size of the planet and its orbit. Even though we now know of nearly 1000 planets around other stars, we know nothing of the conditions. Are they frozen wastelands, fiery hells or watery paradises? To learn the answers will require direct study, separating the light of the star from the light reflected off the planet itself.
But a planet like Earth is 10 Billion times fainter than the Sun, and it huddles very close for warmth, so the optical separation of the planets from the stars is a very difficult problem for telescope builders. Web will talk about how starlight can be suppressed with his invention, the starshade. With luck, in a few years, astronomers will be capturing images like the one below, and performing spectroscopic analysis of each planet to determine what it actually is.



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