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Posted October 2, 2009
Ted Talks

Garik Israelian: How spectroscopy could reveal alien life

Garik Israelian is a spectroscopist, studying the spectrum emitted by a star to figure out what it's made of and how it might behave. It's a rare and accessible look at this discipline, which may be coming close to finding a planet friendly to life.

Garik Israelian's stargazing on the Canary Islands has led to high-profile discoveries about space's big disasters -- including the first evidence that supernova explosions make black holes.

Garik Israelian studies the spectral signatures of stars and other bodies as an astrophysicist at the Gran Telescopio Canarias, home of the world's largest optical-infrared telescope mirror, part of the Institute of Astrophysics on the Canary Islands. He has published more than 150 articles on topics such as extra-solar planets and black hole binary systems, and his observational work -- poring over the spectral data that points to the composition of distant stars -- has led to the discovery of a lithium signature that suggests Sun-sized stars gobble up their planets.

In 1999, Israelian led a collaboration that found the first observational evidence that supernova explosions are responsible for the formation of black holes. In 2008, he was on the team that announced the detection of the first extrasolar planet. He's on the verge of announcing more big news. (And he is one of the astronomers whom Brian May, the guitarist of Queen, credits with persuading him to finish his PhD after 30 years as a rock star.)

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