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The Hunt for Alien Worlds

The four telescopes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory in Chile. These cutting-edge instruments are on the hunt for small, habitable zone planets around some of the smallest and coolest stars in the solar neighbourhood.

Speaker: Georgina Dransfield, University of Birmingham

It took astronomers over a thousand years to convince themselves and the world that Earth and the solar system are neither special nor unique. However, having discovered more than 5000 planets orbiting other stars, we have yet to find a single system like ours. Could this place be unique after all? Are Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars inherently hard to form? Or is there some observational bias in the way we search for planets?

Join Georgina on a journey through one of the most rapidly growing fields in astronomy: Exoplanetology. In this lecture you will hear the story of the first exoplanet discovery, and you will learn about the most popular and successful detection methods, as well as the most challenging and innovative techniques.

While we haven’t discovered anything quite like home just yet, we have found a veritable zoo of alien worlds: planets with two suns, planets with gravity three times stronger than Earth, and even ultra-hot gas giants whizzing round their stars in under a day. There are too many weird and wonderful worlds to cover them all, but our speaker will describe some of the most surprising planets found so far.

Finally, you’ll hear about some of Georgina's own planet-hunting adventures and how the hunt for habitable worlds took her to the most inhospitable place on Earth: Antarctica!

There is no requirement to pre-register for this event. It is requested that if you feel unwell or have symptoms of COVID, you do not attend. Mask wearing is encouraged but not mandatory. Doors to the Large Lecture Theatre will be open from 7pm and refreshments will be available. The talk begins at 7.30pm.