12.10pm Friday 2nd February 2024

Beatriz Villarroel is an assistant professor in astronomy at Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (Stockholm University, Stockholm). She obtained her PhD in astronomy from Uppsala University in 2017, and went on a first postdoc to ETH Zurich in Switzerland. This was shortly followed by an international postdoc sponsored by the Swedish Research Council, shared between Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Spain) and the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics. Beatriz is the project leader of the Vanishing & Appearing Objects during a Century of Observations (VASCO) project as well as of the freshly launched ExoProbe project. For her work with the VASCO project, she was awarded the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science national prize in Sweden 2021, the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Rising Talents prize in 2022. In 2023, she was awarded the Heterodox Academy’s Courage Prize. In 2023, she also gave a TEDx talk in Zurich with the title “Why we should search for alien artifacts”, and an invited talk at the Sol Foundation’s inaugural symposium at Stanford University. She likes classical music and playing violin in her free time.

Optical transients on old photographic plates

Most transient sky surveys search for things that appear on the night sky. In the Vanishing & Appearing Sources during a Century of Observations (VASCO) project, however, we have been searching for objects that may have vanished from the night sky. We use photographic plates of the sky from the early 1950s, exposed before the launch of Sputnik I, and compare them to the sky as it appears today. This provides us with an approximately 70 years time window. Entirely unexpectedly, we have found groups of astrophysical transients where multiple stars-like objects appear and vanish in a small space during 50 minutes. We discuss various explanations, which include plate contamination from unofficial atomic bomb tests, gravitational lensing effects by supermassive black holes in the Milky Way, and finally the possibility of having detected artificial extraterrestrial objects in orbit around the Earth before the launch of Sputnik I. To conclude the talk, we present the new ExoProbe project, that aims to search for similar multiple transient events and other signatures of extraterrestrial probes in orbit around the Earth, in a brand new near-Earth SETI project.

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