Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Exoplanet Lecture

Today was my first college lecture, and by this I mean this was the first time I have ever been up in front of a large class lecturing. In this count, pre-lab lectures are not considered. Small lectures before a laboratory are fairly straight forward since there is a very limited amount of information that you need to convey before the students start following the laboratory procedure. Anyway, my advisor is teaching the introductory astronomy class this term and, seeing as he was going to be out of town this week, tasked me with presenting a lecture on exoplanets in his stead.

It was actually quite a fun experience and I think the students were engaged and absorbing the material. I approached the topic in such a way that when the students left the class they should be able to critically analyze a popular science article describing an exoplanet discovery. This includes not only understanding the detection methods, but also the metrics that are used to qualify a planet as habitable. Since habitability is often exaggerated for public consumption, it was crucial that students be able to understand what all is involved (and not involved) in these claims.

Specifically, I focused on a fun exoplanet that was announced not too long ago - Kepler 16, the real life "Tatooine" from Star Wars. The system was discovered with transits using Kepler and confirmed using radial velocity and a recent paper discussed potential habitability of an exomoon (Ewoks!?). I was really pleased with the analysis that Kepler 16 lent itself to. Hopefully the students agree.