Astrophysicist and TED FellowBook Speaker
Lucianne Walkowicz is a leader in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)—one of the most influential big data projects of the coming decade. LSST will scan the sky every night for 10 years to create a huge cosmic movie of our Universe. With NASA's Kepler mission, Walkowicz studies starspots and "the tempestuous tantrums of stellar flares" to understand stellar magnetic fields. As the Henry Norris Russell Fellow at Princeton University, she focuses on stellar activity and rotation with Kepler, and planetary habitability. As if that isn't enough to wow you, Walkowicz is also a multimedia artist: her work spans from traditional media to data-driven pieces that explore our connection to the workings of the universe.
Walkowicz got her taste for astronomy as an undergrad at Johns Hopkins, testing detectors for the Hubble Space Telescope’s new camera (installed in 2002). She also learned to love the dark stellar denizens of our galaxy, the red dwarfs, which became the topic of her PhD dissertation at University of Washington. Now, Walkowicz is the Henry Norris Russell Fellow in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton. She is particularly interested in how the high energy radiation from stars influences the habitability of planets around alien suns.
Finding planets around other stars
How do we find planets -- even habitable planets -- around other stars? By looking for tiny dimming as a planet passes in front of its sun, TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz and the Kepler mission have found some 1,200 potential new planetary systems. With new techniques, they may even find ones with the right conditions for life. In this clear and interactive talk, Walkowicz explains how these discoveries are possible, and why they matter: "Every measurement [Kepler] makes is precious, because it's teaching us about the relationship between stars and planets," she says. "It's really the starlight that sets the stage for the formation of life in the universe."
Look up for a change
TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz asks: How often do you see the true beauty of the night sky? In this talk, she shows how light pollution is ruining the extraordinary -- and often ignored -- experience of seeing directly into space, and why it's such a dangerous new phenomenon. With humour and grace, Walkowicz urges her audience to get outside, and look up: it's not just scientists who discover new stars in the sky, or appreciate the beauty of the vastness of our universe. Anyone willing to leave the city temporarily in search of darker pastures, or those that crane their necks in search of one or two twinkling lights, need to know what they can do to keep keep clear . "Like any natural resource, if we don't protect it, if we don't preserve it and treasure it, it will slip away from us and be gone."
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