Lucky for us, Earth possesses the right temperature, atmosphere, and size to support life. But how did our planet end up with this perfect combination of elements? While other planets are too hot, too cold, too large, too small, too wet or too dry, how did Earth come to be just right?
Those are the kinds of questions that excite KIDtalks at KIDfest speaker, Alycia J. Weinberger, Ph.D., whose talk is titled, “Goldilocks and the 3,000 Planets” and is presented by the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.
An astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Weinberger seeks to understand how planets form and why they come to form differently. She studies the disks of dust and gas orbiting around younger stars, materials from which planets arise. Working backwards from these swirling disks, she seeks to understand how some planets are born with the water, carbon, and other elements that are necessary to sustain life.
Weinberger uses the Hubble Space Telescope and the world’s largest ground-based telescopes to search for young and old planets in other star systems. When asked the obvious question, Weinberger admits, “Of course, we’re interested in knowing whether planets in other solar systems might be habitable or inhabited. We’ve found about 3,000 planets so far, but there may be many more. It might be that every star has a planet.”
Weinberger is eager to speak at KIDfest because she knows that most kids are intrigued by astronomy. Her advice to aspiring young astronomers: “Every kid starts curious, and the best thing they can do is stay curious and find ways to answer the questions they have — reading, talking to people, doing experiments.”
This KIDtalk will be followed by a hands-on infrared light activity that demonstrates why astronomers use infrared to study planet formation. Plus, the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation will be presenting information on its initiatives for youth leaders across our region.
Alycia Weinberger’s KIDtalk at KIDfest is at 4:00pm on Sunday, September 23 in the Silver Spring Civic Center. Learn more about KIDfest at kidfest.org.