Courtney Dressing’s ongoing search for planets around other stars has won her a prestigious Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering.

Dressing, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of astronomy, is one of 22 early career scientists and engineers nationwide who will receive $875,000 each over five years to pursue their research. The new fellows were announced this week by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are among the nation’s largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility in how the funding is used. Since 1988, this program has supported the blue sky thinking of scientists and engineers, with the belief that their research, over time, will lead to new discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance our understanding of the universe.

“This new class of fellows is about to embark on a journey to pursue their curiosity down unknown paths in ways that could lead to big discoveries,” said Frances Arnold, who is chair of the Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel and a 2018 Nobel laureate in chemistry, Berkeley alumna and 1989 Packard Fellow. “I can’t wait to see what direction the work of these brilliant scientists and engineers will take. Their efforts will add to this beautiful web of science that connects us all to a better understanding of the world around us.”

Dressing came to Berkeley’s astronomy department in 2017 after a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech. She obtained her Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University in 2015, working with well-known exoplanet astronomer and 2006 Packard Fellow David Charbonneau.

Her Berkeley research group is advancing the search for life on planets orbiting nearby stars by using a variety of ground-based and space-based telescopes to discover new planets, determine their characteristics and assess their suitability for life. The NASA Kepler Mission has previously revealed that planetary systems are common, but astronomers are still working to determine which planets might be able to support life.

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When it comes to galaxies, how fast is fast? The Milky Way, an average spiral galaxy, spins at a speed of 130 miles per second (210 km/sec) in our Sun’s neighborhood. New research has found that the most massive spiral galaxies spin faster than expected. These “super spirals,” the largest of which weigh about 20 times more than our Milky Way, spin at a rate of up to 350 miles per second (570 km/sec).

Super spirals are exceptional in almost every way. In addition to being much more massive than the Milky Way, they’re also brighter and larger in physical size. The largest span 450,000 light-years compared to the Milky Way’s 100,000-light-year diameter. Only about 100 super spirals are known to date. Super spirals were discovered as an important new class of galaxies while studying data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) as well as the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED).

“Super spirals are extreme by many measures,” says Patrick Ogle of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “They break the records for rotation speeds.”

Ogle is first author of a paper that was published October 10, 2019 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The paper presents new data on the rotation rates of super spirals collected with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Additional data were obtained using the 5-meter Hale telescope of the Palomar Observatory, operated by the California Institute of Technology. Data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission was crucial for measuring the galaxy masses in stars and star formation rates.

Referring to the new study, Tom Jarrett of the University of Cape Town, South Africa says, “This work beautifully illustrates the powerful synergy between optical and infrared observations of galaxies, revealing stellar motions with SDSS and SALT spectroscopy, and other stellar properties — notably the stellar mass or ‘backbone’ of the host galaxies — through the WISE mid-infrared imaging.

These photos show the loading of Egypt’s TIBA 1 communications satellite (left) and the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS scientific satellite (right) on an Antonov An-124 cargo plane at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France for transport to Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space/P. Masclet/Master Films

A European-built communications satellite, manufactured in secret for the Egyptian government, joined a European Space Agency exoplanet observatory aboard a Ukrainian Antonov An-124 cargo plane for a trans-Atlantic flight Wednesday to begin final launch preparations in French Guiana.

The TIBA 1 communications satellite and ESA’s Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, were loaded into the Antonov cargo plane at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France, near an Airbus spacecraft factory.

The heavy-duty aircraft transported the satellites — both inside climate-controlled shipping containers — on a trans-Atlantic journey to the airport in Cayenne, French Guiana, where they landed Wednesday afternoon. The two spacecraft were expected to travel by truck to the nearby Guiana Space Center in Kourou, where technicians will remove the satellites from their containers and prepare them for launch.

The TIBA 1 spacecraft will launch in tandem with an Inmarsat mobile communications satellite on an Ariane 5 rocket set for liftoff Nov. 22. CHEOPS will launch as a secondary payload on the Dec. 17 launch of a Russian Soyuz booster with Italy’s first COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, or CSG 1, radar surveillance satellite.

In 1619, German astronomer Johannes Kepler published his Harmonices Mundi (Harmony of the World), a text that investigated how mathematics could help the planets of the solar system create celestial music based on their orbital resonances. Three hundred years later, an astronomer using discoveries from NASA’s Kepler mission has arranged thousands of exoplanets in their own grand sonata.

As telescopes have become more automated, astronomical data have evolved from a trickle to a roaring river. During its primary and extended missions, Kepler identified nearly 5,000 confirmed and candidate exoplanets. The first candidates came in small doses, allowing astronomers to get to know them well. But later observations came in giant batches that were more challenging to parse.

“There’s too many of them to look at individually,” said Jason Steffen, an astronomer at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Now that there are so many, they are falling through the cracks.”

Steffen, who studied some music theory and said he knows “just enough to be dangerous,” realized that the Kepler worlds could produce scientific insights when set to music. At the same time, he came across a YouTube video claiming that sonification—setting data to sound—doesn’t produce much useful science.

“I took that as a challenge,” Steffen said. “Planetary systems have good insight that can be gained when you sonify the data.”

Steffen produced a YouTube video of the thousands of exoplanets that combines information about their orbits with sound.

The volume of the system is set by its largest planet, with louder chords corresponding to larger worlds. The lowest note is set by the orbital period of the largest world, with a lower note lining up with a longer orbital period.

Stradigi AI and KPMG have developed a true alliance where a diverse team of product designers, data scientists, engineers, lawyers, and business consultants are delivering scalable AI solutions as one team. "Kepler is cutting-edge and will help KPMG's clients to implement AI solutions faster and become more efficient as a business. Working together will enable our clients to address the regulatory, privacy and ethical considerations that arise in machine learning systems," says Sylvia Kingsmill, Partner and National Lead for Digital Privacy, Regulatory and Information Management at KPMG in Canada.

"This alliance has already proven its value. The joint win of delivering the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) with a pilot is evidence of Kepler's capabilities and the potential we can offer to clients," says Per Nyberg, Chief Commercial Officer, Stradigi AI.

The approach to this successful win was to leverage Kepler's Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and machine learning capabilities. This technology will allow CSPS to analyze large amounts of structured and unstructured regulatory data on an interactive Regulatory Evaluation Platform (REP). This will revolutionize federal governments' regulatory capabilities by providing them with an advanced tool to consolidate, simplify and automate analysis of complex regulations creating greater efficiencies in the regulatory making and amendment process.

Beyond the mission of the Canada School of Public Service project, Kepler's technology of pre-built pipelines is transferable to other capabilities for KPMG's clients. We look forward to working jointly with KPMG's audit, tax and advisory services to empower executives tasked with leveraging AI to generate ROI in today's market with Kepler.

About Stradigi AI
Stradigi AI is a Montreal-based Artificial Intelligence provider committed to transforming business through smart, easy-to-implement AI solutions. Their AI platform, Kepler, was created for pioneering organizations, infusing revenue-driving AI into multiple facets of business. Kepler empowers teams to make the right decisions at the right times, allowing today's idea to become tomorrow's competitive edge.

The discovery of the first exoplanet almost 25 years ago changed our perception of the origin and evolution of the Universe and challenged the uniqueness of our own Solar System. Today, scientists from the German Aerospace Center and other organisations are using new techniques and instruments on ESA missions such as CHEOPS and PLATO to set their sights even higher - the hunt for a second Earth.

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 will be awarded with one half to James Peebles for his work on structure formation in the early Universe, and the other half to the two Geneva-based astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, for their discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star. Their 1995 publication, 'A Jupiter-mass companion to a solar-type star' (Nature, volume 378), confirmed the discovery of a planet orbiting a Sun-like star.

Their findings sparked a new and rapidly-expanding area of astronomy - the search for extrasolar planets, or exoplanets. DLR has been active in this field since the beginning, specifically using space telescopes.

DLR researchers extend sincere congratulations to their colleagues Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. They will receive the famous Nobel diploma - each a unique work of art - from the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf in Stockholm on 10 December 2019, the anniversary of the death of Nobel Prize founder Alfred Nobel.

The discovery by the two Swiss astronomers was based on measurements using the ELODIE spectrograph at the Haute-Provence Observatory, located approximately 90 kilometres east of Avignon, France.

Since then, the number of discovered exoplanets has risen rapidly, leading to increasing calls from the scientific community for a systematic search for exoplanets using space telescopes, whose observations are not impaired by the Earth's atmosphere. The first space mission dedicated to exoplanetary research, CoRoT, was given green in the year 2000.