I had the good fortune to work on a documentary for the History channel called "Star Trek: Secrets of the Universe."
In the course of filming, I was able to meet some amazing writers and scientists. I met Geoff Marcy and Sara Seager, for example. Two astronomers who are leaders in the search for planets around other stars, also known as "exoplanets."
Dr. Marcy is all about finding planets, and Dr. Seager is learning more about what those planets are made of. She looks at the data we have about the planets, like how quickly they pass in front of their star and their size, and she determines what they are made of by using tools like the equation of state. She uses this equation:
ρ(r) = f(T(r),P(r))
To figure out what the interior of a planet is made of. Don't ask me to explain it, because I can't. But, one of the many fascinating things that Dr. Seager said during our filming was that just about any combination of elements that we can imagine, probably exists on a planet somewhere. There are billions of exoplanets, and they get extremely exotic.
I don't know why, but I find the idea of nearly infinitely varied exoplanets utterly thrilling. It's so exciting. Carbon planets with a diamond interior was one speculation, but she also imagined even a planet whose atmosphere is so dense that creatures could swim from liquid oceans into super-dense air. Cool. I MUST know more.
Well, it turns out that the Museum of Natural History is going to have a lecture about exoplanets, and possible plot-lines and speculation for science fiction stories set on these exotic planetary possibilities. I can't wait to see this lecture and have already bought tickets.
Below is a description with a link for anyone interested:
Join Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, Louis Block Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, as he discusses speculations about planetary atmospheres in science fiction as a hook to discuss what we know about planets and exoplanets and how we know it. Using some of the issues raised by newly discovered exoplanets, like planets where it may snow sapphires, he will introduce some possible plot lines that have not yet been exploited in fiction.