Martz Observatory: Planet Earth as Seen by Aliens? Earth as Viewed from Distant Stars

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Darren Williams, Ph.D.
Darren Williams, Ph.D.

The next presentation in Martz-Kohl Observatory’s popular special Guest Speaker series, will be by Dr. Darren Williams, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Penn State Behrend in Erie Pennsylvania., on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Williams is an engaging speaker with a knack for bringing the latest scientific discoveries down-to-earth in language enlightening and entertaining for general audiences.

Dr. Williams asks the question, “What would Earth look like to someone light years away? Would it be a featureless blue dot, or could we possibly see oceans, snow and ice, forests, or even cities through the clouds?”

This will be a hybrid presentation. Guests are invited to attend in-person at the observatory or to take part live-streamed as a Zoom Webinar. More info on visiting the observatory and group reservations can be found by viewing our contact and reservation form webpages online at martzobservatory.org. As always, the presentation will be followed by a lively, always fascinating Q&A session in person and on Zoom.

To date, astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 planets orbiting distant stars across the galaxy. They are called “exoplanets.” Hundreds of them are Earth-sized and may host life, even intelligent life. But how would we know? Dr. Williams asks that question in reverse. How would intelligent aliens on distant planets know what our world looks like? And could they know if we are here?

The answer to this question is what astronomers are considering as they collect and interpret the light from those distant exoplanets. They are too far and too faint to “see” with advanced telescopes. But futuristic telescopes will literally photograph their targets and determine their sizes, spin properties, and atmospheric compositions. In addition, astronomers should be able to distinguish between worlds with water, like Earth, from planets without, like Mercury or Mars, all from a single pixel of an unresolved, almost invisible planet.

Dr. Darren Williams, as a teen, started his future career as an astronomy hobbyist at the Martz-Kohl Observatory. In addition to teaching, Dr. Williams studies the climates, orbits, observable characteristics, and dynamical evolution of planets and satellites. He is perhaps best known for his innovative work on the formation and habitability of exoplanetary moons, as well as the climates of Earth-like planets with unusual spins and orbital shapes.

His present work is on the final stages of planet formation, and designs for a new miniature space telescope (The Pale-Blue-Dot Telescope) to remotely observe the terrestrial planets at sub-pixel resolution.

News Flash!

MKO images the new Chinese Tiangong space station as it flies over Western New York on Thursday, September 2. MKO members Tom Traub and John Anderson, using the observatory’s newly upgraded timing and tracking systems, were able to capture good images of Tiangong even though the space station was not in sunlight at the time, being nearly invisible from Earth. This is a major technological triumph for MKO. All members are authorized, following training, to use the MKO telescopes, so congratulations to Tom and John!