From the Program Chair

by Ken Levy, Program Chair

Many thanks to AAAP’s Dr. Ken Kremer for last month’s lecture ‘What’s Beyond for NASA”. Ken attended the launch of The Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) at the Kennedy Space Center on November 26th. The 2,000 pound rover is scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012.

Dr. Ken Kremer.  Photo credit: Ken Levy

Dr. Ken Kremer. Photo credit: Ken Levy

On Tuesday December 10th we’re proud to present Princeton’s Dr. Gaspar Bakos, speaking on ‘Hunting for Transiting Extrasolar Planets’. Dr. Bakos is Assistant Professor in the Princeton Astrophysical Sciences Department and has just returned from work in Chile.

Dr. Bakos is the Principal Investigator for the Hungarian Automated Telescope Network (HATNet), six 110-mm diameter, wide-field, fully-automated telescopes designed to detect and characterize extrasolar planets, and to find and study bright variable stars. The network is maintained by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics with primary stations at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Sub-millimeter Array site atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Dr. Bakos is also the PI for the related HAT-South network of telescopes installed in Chile, Australia and Namibia, the first truly global network of identical telescopes allowing for round-the-clock monitoring of the sky.

Dr. Gaspar Bakos. Source: National Geographic Hungary, 2009 July

Dr. Gaspar Bakos. Source: National Geographic Hungary, 2009 July

Data from HATNet have enabled the discovery of roughly a quarter of the more than 100 known exoplanets which transit their parent stars. Observations of transiting exoplanets yield precise measures of the mass and radius of the planet, placing important constraints on the planet’s internal structure. The HATNet planets have masses ranging from the mass of Neptune (only 5% of the mass of Jupiter) to roughly seven times the mass of Jupiter. Several HATNet planets are the first of their kind, including two of the first four transiting Neptune-mass planets and the first multi-planet systems with a transiting inner planet.

Dr. Bakos was awarded the 2011 Newton Lacy Pierce prize of the American Astronomical Society “for outstanding achievement, over the past five years, in observational astronomical research based on measurements of radiation from an astronomical object.” This prize is given to a distinguished astronomer younger than 36 years of age in the year designated for the award.

Dr. Bakos obtained his MSc in 2000 at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. After receiving his PhD from ELTE in 2004, he was a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow until 2007 and a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow until 2010.

There will be a “Meet the Speaker” dinner, 6:00 pm before the meeting at the Triumph Brewery. To insure a place at the table, please email me at kenetics@me.com by Friday, Dec. 9th for a reservation. We look forward to seeing you in December!

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