WaterWorlds

Anyone unfortunate enough to dog-paddle through the ludicrous 1995 Kevin Costner film “Waterworld” is familiar with the notion of a world that is mostly ocean, with a few islands here and there. Nothing that drastic could happen if all the ice on Earth melted — but do water worlds really exist somewhere?

They may well exist, thinks Sean Raymond, researcher in the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, University of Colorado at Boulder. Raymond will speak next Friday, Feb. 27, at Weber State University, Ogden. The free lecture, starting 7 p.m., is part of WSU’s observation of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. It will be held on campus in the Lind Lecture Hall, Room 125-126.

Another attraction of the evening will be WSU’s unveiling two new NASA views of the galaxy Messier 101, also called the Pinwheel Galaxy.

His theoretical work on planet formation indicates “there should be a lot of diversity in terms of what planets should look like,” Raymond told Nightly News. “Planetary systems that even look a lot like the solar system could have planets like Earth, they could have planets that are different in terms of their size, different in terms of their composition, different in their water content.”

Recently this blog said Earth’s water was delivered via comet. Raymond said, however, that scientists are not certain of the water’s origin. One model indicates that instead of comets, “it’s actually due to wet asteroids,” a type that may no longer remain in the solar system.

“We think a portion of that material actually ended up delivering water to Earth when that asteroid belt was being depleted early in the solar system,” he said. Wet asteroids could have slammed into our planet, leaving it awash in water.

If this process happened when other planets formed, could life have developed there? “I’m very optimistic about it,” he said.

Are intelligent beings on some of these planets? “I suspect there are, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

WSU publicity says his talk will discuss what sorts of worlds new planet-hunting projects might find, from “small desert planets to ocean-covered ‘water worlds.'” (The Kepler probe, NASA’s first satellite capable of detecting Earthlike worlds, is to launch on March 5.)

John Armstrong, WSU physics professor, said the NASA images of M-101 are high-resolution views that will be placed on permanent display at WSU’s science museum. “The images are, frankly, spectacular,” he said.

Made up of data from three of NASA’s great observatories, the photos are being unveiled at 76 museums and 40 schools. Light from the Hubble Space Telescope, X-ray imagery from the Chandra observatory and infrared data from the Spitzer telescope are combined to display many features of the galaxy.

The composite view shows what a person could see with eyes able to detect light “redder than red and bluer than blue,” as well as X-radiation and infrared wavelengths, said WSU’s Ron Proctor. One of the photos is three by three feet and the other is three by six, he said.

“We’re always excited to have a big event like this. It’s part of our outreach mission to get the community involved and to share the knowledge that astronomy and science in general is bringing to us,” Proctor added.

Following Raymond’s lecture, assuming the night is clear, the Ogden Astronomical Society will conduct an observing session in the Astrophysical Observatory north of the lecture hall. WSU encourages attendees to dress warmly.

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