Planet hunter Steve Vogt to give annual Faculty Research Lecture on Feb. 28

steven vogt
Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, will deliver the 46th annual UCSC Faculty Research Lecture on Tuesday, February 28, at 7 p.m. in the Music Recital Hall. Entitled "Across a Sea of Suns: Charting Distant Worlds, Other Earths," the lecture is free and open to the public.

The annual Faculty Research Lecture is the foremost academic research honor bestowed by the UCSC Academic Senate. It was given to Vogt in recognition of his extraordinary research accomplishments.

Vogt's talk will chronicle his 16-year search, using the telescopes at UC's Lick and Keck Observatories, to find potentially habitable Earth-like worlds around the nearest stars. During his 33 years at UCSC, Vogt has designed, built, and used high-precision spectrometers to find new planets outside our solar system. More than 1,000 planets are now known in and around our stellar neighborhood, but almost all are large gas giants like Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus, or small hellish rocky worlds glowing in the heat of their stars like Earth-sized charcoal briquettes. Few if any are likely to provide habitable conditions where life might flourish.

In 2010, Vogt's team announced the discovery of a nearly Earth-sized planet orbiting a nearby star within the "habitable zone," where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. Further observations are needed to confirm this discovery, which remains controversial. Recently, however, his team announced the discovery of another Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of its star. Vogt said he expects this planet to be much easier to confirm. The discovery of these potentially habitable planets around relatively nearby stars implies that there must be billions of such planets in our galaxy, he said.

Vogt has received many awards for his research, including the Tinsley Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the Carl Sagan Memorial Award of the Planetary Society, and the Prix Andre Lallemand of the Academie des Sciences de France. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1978.