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1-9-03 - Authur J. Dyer Observatory - The Dyer Observatory at 1000 Oman Drive in Brentwood at sunset and at night. (Vanderbilt Photo/Neil Brake) Job#0351

The search for exoplanets has been bearing fruit for just over two decades now, as scientists using high-powered telescopes have found more than 3,400 planets outside of our solar system. Most of those have been discovered in just the past eight years since the Kepler Space Telescope was launched, as NASA recounts.

At Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory on Friday, March 3, the public will have the chance to hear from a professional astronomer about the latest frontier in the search for exoplanets. Dr. Keivan Stassun, a professor at both Vanderbilt and Fisk unversities, will discuss NASA’s upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite program, which will begin its work in 2018. The talk begins at 7 p.m.

“I want to give folks a taste of the exciting research going on now to search for solar systems like our own elsewhere in the galaxy,” Stassun said in a phone conversation in advance of his talk. “Astronomers are now finding planets around other stars on an almost daily basis, but with a NASA mission that is going to be launched in the coming year we expect to be able to really make headway in understanding how common planets like our own Earth are around stars like our own sun.”

Whereas Kepler led to the successful identification of thousands of exoplanets, many of them were enormous, gaseous planets along the lines of Jupiter and Saturn. TESS will focus specifically on finding smaller, earth-like planets with the hope that the James Webb Space Telescope—also set to launch in 2018—will be able to later investigate them in greater depth in an attempt to determine whether or not they are hospitable to life.

Stassun and his fellow researchers at Vanderbilt have been closely involved with the development of the TESS mission.

“For the past eight years or so my research team … has been field-testing a kind of optical design for a telescope, which ended up being used for this mission,” he said. “In my talk tomorrow, I’ll show how the work we’ve done at Vanderbilt ties right in.”

The Dyer Observatory is located at 1000 Oman Drive, just north of Old Hickory Boulevard off Granny White Pike. Attendees will have a chance to take a look through the observatory’s Seyfert Telescope after Dr. Stassun’s talk if the weather is nice.

Tickets for the event are $5 and can be purchased here.