Four hundred years ago, our view of the everything changed as scientists like Galileo proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe but instead orbits around our star, the Sun. Fifteen years ago the world shifted again when the first planets were discovered orbiting other stars. Since then, more than four hundred such other worlds have been discovered - but almost all are invisible, seen only through their gravitational tug on their parent star. Scientists and engineers are working together to build more advanced telescopes and equipment that are allowing us to study these other worlds in greater and greater detail. One limit that has to be overcome is the earth's atmosphere, which distorts and blurs everything we see. A new technique, adaptive optics, uses mirrors that change their shape a thousand times a second to make ultra-sharp images from giant telescopes on the ground.

Last year, using adaptive optics and the 10 meter W.M. Keck telescope in Hawaii, a LLNL team produced the first ever picture of another solar system, showing three giant planets as dim red dots a hundred thousand times fainter than the bright blue star they orbit. In the future, these techniques may even lead to an image with a pale blue dot circling a nearby star - another Earth.

Speaker Bios

Dr. Bruce Macintosh

Bruce Macintosh is an astronomer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He grew up in Canada and obtained a BSc in physics from the University of Toronto; he wanted to be a physicist until he realized physics was too complicated to explain to people at parties and switched to astronomy. He got a Ph.D. in astronomy from UCLA in 1994 and has worked at LLNL ever since. Dr. Macintosh was part of the team that built laser guide star adaptive optics systems for the Shane telescope at Lick Observatory and the W.M. Keck Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Since then he has used adaptive optics to search for planets orbiting other stars, and leads a project to build an advanced planet-finding instrument for the Gemini Observatory.

Dr. Lisa Poyneer

Dr. Lisa Poyneer has worked at LLNL since 2001, developing groundbreaking new technologies in the field of adaptive optics for astronomical telescopes. A lifelong nerd, Lisa loves finding ingenious solutions to complicated problems, especially if Fourier Transforms are involved!

Lisa studied computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, receiving the S.B. and the M.Eng. She won awards for being the top female student and the top Engineering student at MIT.

A 1999 Rhodes Scholar, Lisa earned the B.A. in Modern History at Oxford University.

Concurrently with her LLNL employment, she completed the Ph.D. at UC Davis in 2007, winning the 2008 Marr Prize for the most distinguished doctoral dissertation at UC Davis.

Tom Shefler

Granada High School

Mr. Shefler received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and applied mathematics from Western Michigan University in 1997 and a Master of Arts degree in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2000. While at Berkeley, he researched analyzed and cataloged Hubble Space Telescope images of galaxies, observational research involved in the detection and study of extrasolar planets, and discovered Supernova 1998DT while working with the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope team. During his graduate studies he fell in love with teaching and entered the teaching profession in 2002.