Want To Find A New Planet?

Ever wished you could discover a new planet? You might have the chance at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) when it hosts its inaugural Winter Festival of Astronomy later this month.Helping to search the galaxies far far away will be an astronomical team of internationally acclaimed researchers to share their love and knowledge of space. Its star attraction will be NASA Professor Lynn Rothschild, an astrobiologist who is making her first visit to USQ as one of the University’s 2016 Visiting Research Giants.

jonti-horner Associate Professor and astral searcher Jonathan “Jonti” Horner said, “Professor Rothschild is involved in the search for life beyond Earth, and to have her visiting USQ and headlining our Winter Festival of Astronomy is a great coup for us here in Toowoomba.”

The festival, which runs from Tuesday July 19 to Friday July 22, features a series of free evening events, and coincides with the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing. “Just two decades ago, we had yet to find a single planet orbiting another star outside our Solar system. Now we know of more than 3,000 planets around stars other than our own,” Jonti said.

Known as exoplanets, these bodies are the focus of research by Associate Professor Horner and his colleagues at USQ, like Professor Brad Carter. The team have already played a major role in the discovery of several new planets, including Gliese 832c, which orbits one of the Sun’s nearest neighbours.

Thanks to funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC), Associate Professor Horner and the USQ team are now involved in building the multi-telescope MINERVA-Australis facility at USQ’s Mount Kent Observatory to look for new worlds among the stars.

USQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Jan Thomas said the University’s achievements in the astronomical and space sciences were inspiring minds of all ages. “We are delighted to be a local Queensland destination where science and technology comes together to search for life beyond earth,” Professor Thomas said. “USQ is fast becoming a key Australian research centre for astrophysics and the Winter Festival of Astronomy is a wonderful chance for students, amateur astronomers and others to hear from international leaders in their field.”

lynn-rothschild-nasaProfessor Rothschild is a leader of experimental programs on the International Space Station and the Eu: CROPIS Satellite, and will be speaking at the Winter Festival of Astronomy on the topic of Astrobiology and the Search for Life Elsewhere. Also speaking at the Festival will be Eminent Visiting Scholar Associate Professor Stephen Kane, Australian-born and educated and now an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at San Francisco State University. Associate Professor Kane has worked at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and leading universities in the USA and UK; his research focuses mainly on finding and characterising exoplanets.

The stargazing event held after Associate Professor Kane’s presentation welcomes amateur astronomers and members of the general community to take a different view of the Solar system.

While the Winter Festival of Astronomy celebrates the role of physics and biology in the study of space, it also has a more local angle through its connection with history. “Fifty years ago, in 1966, NASA built the Cooby Creek Space Tracking Station. That was where Toowoomba’s connection with space exploration started – before anyone had walked on the Moon. In the coming decades, our exploration will push ever further – with USQ and Toowoomba at the forefront of that journey,” Associate Professor Horner said.

To find out more, go to

Evening events
Tuesday, July 19, 5pm-7pm
Lecture by Professor Lynn Rothschild: Astrobiology and the Search for Life Elsewhere
Wednesday, July 20, 5pm-7pm
Lecture by Dr David Ciardi (NASA/Caltech): Planets Everywhere!  The Revolution in How We View The Earth; followed by an open panel discussion featuring eminent astronomers.
Thursday, July 21, 5pm-7pm
Lecture by Associate Professor Jonti Horner (USQ): Rocks From Space
Friday, July 22, 5pm-7pm
Stargazing event and presentation by Associate Professor Stephen Kane on Planet Hunting

Submitted by:

Rhianwen Whitney
Phone: 07 4631 2977

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