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Discovery of new planets

Sagan Institute director explains what life could be like near Trappist-1 - February 22, 2017

Lisa Kaltenegger, one of the world’s leading experts on exoplanets and the potential for life beyond earth, and director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, explains why NASA’s discovery is exciting and what life might look like on the seven Earth-like planets discovered near Trappist-1 – planets likely to have very high ultraviolet radiation flux on the surface

Kaltenegger has two papers (“UV Surface Habitability of the TRAPPIST-1 System," currently under review at Monthly Notices of the Royal Society, and “Biofluorescent Worlds: Biological fluorescence as a temporal biosignature for flare star worlds,” forthcoming in The Astrophysical Journal) that discuss life under a very high ultraviolet radiation flux environment.

Video: Lisa Kaltenegger discusses how her team is searching for alien life,

Kaltenegger says:

“Finding multiple planets in the Habitable Zone of their host star is a great discovery because it means there can be even more potentially habitable planets per star than we thought. And finding more rocky planets in the habitable zone per star definitely increases our odds of finding life.

“Trappist-1 now holds the record for the most rocky planets in the habitable zone – our solar system only has two – Earth and Mars. Life is a definite possibility on these worlds, but it might look different because there’s likely to be very high ultraviolet radiation flux on the surface of these planets.

“How good or bad would such a UV environment be for life? Our paper, currently under review at Monthly Notices of the Royal Society, discusses just this scenario for the Trappist-1 system, examining the consequences of different atmospheres for life in a UV environment.

“We find that if the star is active, as indicated by the X-ray flux, then planets need an ozone layer to shield their surface from the harsh UV that would sterilize the surface. If the planets around Trappist-1 do not have an ozone layer (like a young Earth), life would need to shelter underground or in an ocean to survive and/or develop strategies to shield itself from the UV, such as biofluorescence.

“Atmospheric biosignatures such as methane, indicating adaptations by life, could be detected by the James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018, or the European Extremely Large Telescope, coming online in 2022.”

For interviews contact:
Melissa Osgood
office: 607-255-2059
cell: 607-882-3773

The College of Arts and Sciences' communications office works closely with Cornell's Media Relations Office. As the College's representatives to media, we connect faculty experts and thought leaders to local, regional, national and international media organizations. 


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Current press statements from Arts & Sciences faculty:

Trump's take on anti-semitism

This is what Trump must do to truly stop anti-Semitism - February 21, 2017

Jonathan Boyarin, director of Jewish Studies and professor in the departments of Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, says that if President Trump was serious about fighting anti-Semitism, he would fire Stephen Bannon and stop targeting Muslims and Arabs.

Boyarin says:

“President Trump’s acknowledgment Tuesday that anti-Semitism is ‘horrible’ rings hollow.

“If he really were offended by both anti-Semitism and racism, he wouldn’t have anything to do with advisers like Stephen Bannon.

“If what he really wants for this country is ‘love,’ then he would promote policies that serve everyone who lives in, works in, and visits the United States, rather than choosing to target Muslims and Arabs.

“That would be the best way to fight anti-Semitism, as well. Jews have always been safest in open societies where difference is not only tolerated but welcomed.”

For interviews contact:
Rebecca Valli
office: 607-255-7701
cell: 607-793-1025

Importance of the NEH

National Endowment for the Humanities: minute investment with massive impact - February 21, 2017

Timothy Murray is director of Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities and sits on the board of the National Humanities Alliance, as well as other national institutes for the advancement of humanities education. Murray says that cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities – currently under consideration by the Trump administration - will have a massive impact on cultural and historical sectors across the country.

Murray says:

“While the combined budgets of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Public Broadcasting constitutes a minute fraction of the federal budget, the projects these funds support empower cultural education and preservation across the widest spectrum of the country.

“They maximize education opportunity for veterans, help preserve vulnerable library and museum collections, and train younger scholars for broader participation in the public arena.

“An underemphasized fact is that these grants also provide as much as half of the funding for state humanities councils, which lend support to local communities across the nation for public libraries, local history museums, public radio, poetry readings and creative writing workshops.

“Elimination of this lean federal agency would have an enormous impact on cultural service to some of the most vulnerable populations and collections in the country while also jeopardizing crucial contributions to the cultural economy and job creation across the nation."

For interviews contact:
Rebecca Valli
office: 607-255-7701
cell: 607-793-1025

Trump's staff: merit vs. loyalty

Flynn proof Trump must chose merit over loyalty - February 14, 2017

Thomas Pepinsky, associate professor of government at Cornell University and an expert on authoritarianism, says Flynn’s resignation highlights the need to staff Trump’s team based on merit, not loyalty.

Pepinsky says:

“Michael Flynn's sudden resignation throws into question the Trump administration's ability to staff its national security bureaucracy with competent and effective personnel.

“It also reveals a pathological feature of the administration's vetting process: by focusing on loyalty rather than competence, the administration needlessly places itself at risk of embarrassment.

“Vetting, like Senate confirmation of cabinet secretaries, is just as much a mechanism for the administration to protect itself as it is an opportunity for its opponents to criticize the administration's choices.”

For interviews contact: Rebecca Valli

office: 607-255-7701

cell: 607-793-1025