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Astronomer coming home to qathet region for speaker series

Exoplanets, mystifying objects, complex cameras highlight talk hosted by Malaspina Naturalists
COSMOS JOURNEY: Dr. Chris Mann is a research astronomer in Victoria, BC, at the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre, a part of the National Research Council Canada. Mann grew up in the qathet region and will be giving a talk here called Travel the Universe on May 16.

To most people the universe surrounding Earth is a vast unknown entity we look at each night to spot Orion's Belt or maybe squint at the planets Jupiter or Venus.

For Chris Mann, who grew up in the qathet region, the universe and what's inside it has been a focus for many years of his studies. He is now a postdoctoral research fellow with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) at the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria, BC.

Mann will be in the qathet region on May 16 to give a talk about the, "cosmos, exoplanets and the vast range of space, distance and general weirdness that the universe encompasses," according to Malaspina Naturalists, who invited him as part of the group’s speaker series.

Mann was in Powell River Digital Film School during his last year at Brooks Secondary School and intended to pursue further studies in film, but life took him on a different journey.

"I randomly took an Intro to Astronomy course and was immediately hooked," said Mann, in an interview with the Peak. "Since completing my doctorate, my wife and I have moved to Victoria, where I currently work."

Although Mann gave up his pursuit of making film, instead, in his current career, he has access to complex cameras that can detect exoplanets.

Complex cameras
Mann is part of a team working on the Subaru Pathfinder Instrument for Detecting Exoplanets and Retrieving Spectra, or, as it's more commonly known, SPIDERS.

"I study exoplanets, this is short for ‘extrasolar planets’ or planets that orbit stars other than our sun," said Mann. "We [astrophysicists and astronomers] did not know this until the last 10 years or so, but it turns out planets are more plentiful in our galaxy than stars."

Mann said this discovery means for any star we see in the sky, there could be a chance it has at least one planet around it, and likely a whole system of planets.

Life beyond Earth
"Studying these objects helps us to understand questions like how our own Earth and solar system formed, and also keeps probing the big question: does life exist beyond Earth?" emphasized Mann. "Within my lifetime it is completely feasible that we could find signatures [Earth's biosignatures] in an exoplanet’s atmosphere that indicate life is present there."

However, Mann said that doesn't necessarily mean what most people think of as extraterrestrial life, such as "little green men," will be found.

Earth's biosignatures, mentioned Mann, include "the specific mix of oxygen, ozone and methane in our atmosphere that wouldn’t be there if there weren't biological organisms creating it."

Lab in Victoria
Mann works under the supervision of Dr. Christian Marois in the NEW EARTH Laboratory. NEW EARTH stands for NRC Extreme Wavefront control for Exoplanet Adaptive optics Research Topics at Herzberg. The lab has access to a very complex camera that allows them to see faint exoplanets which sit beside stars that are millions or even billions times brighter than the sun.

"We're at a really exciting point in history where we are finally able to see exoplanets," stated Mann, in an NRC release.

He added that in the past researchers had to use indirect methods to study exoplanets but now they use precise instruments and modern techniques to take direct images of these planets. 

"During the talk for the Malaspina Naturalists Club, we’re going to take a greatest hits tour of the universe," Mann told the Peak. "I hope to give a sense of scale for things in our universe, and we’ll visit some of the most bizarre objects out there."

Informative and entertaining talk
He said he promises there will be no math or dry graphs, only pretty pictures, and audience members don't need a science background. He encourages those planning to attend to bring space questions.

"I love learning about space and even though my schooling is finished, that learning aspect certainly is not," said Mann.  "I can appreciate that there’s a certain level of impracticality in trying to understand something that is a bazillion light years away. Our world has real problems that need dealing with, but as a counterpoint, I would argue that basic research like astronomy has a role in keeping awe and wonder as a part of our lives and culture."

To find out how to attend the talk by Mann, titled Travel the Universe, visit the Malaspina Naturalists website at To find out more about his research, go to

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