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  • richardmitnick 11:47 am on June 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NGTS discovers a ‘forbidden planet in the Neptunian desert’", , , , , DLR,   

    From DLR German Aerospace Center: “NGTS discovers a ‘forbidden planet in the Neptunian desert’” 

    DLR Bloc

    From DLR German Aerospace Center

    29 May 2019

    Contacts

    Melanie-Konstanze Wiese
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Tel.: +49 30 67055-639
    Fax: +49 30 67055-102

    Dr. rer. nat. Ruth Titz-Weider
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres
    Tel.: +49 30 67055-185

    Dr Philipp Eigmüller
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    DLR Institute of Planetary Research
    Tel.: +49 30 67055-163

    ESO Next Generation Transit Survey

    2
    The DLR-funded Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) telescope array has found a planet in the ‘Neptunian desert’ – the region close to a star where scientists had long believed that there were no planets of this size. The signals used to detect the planet NGTS-4b are the weakest ever detected by a ground-based search programme. Focus: Exploration, exoplanets, planetary research

    Planets located near stars must endure a lot – from powerful solar winds to intense X-rays and strong ultraviolet radiation. The area where a planet is so close to its host star that it can complete its orbit in less than four Earth days and in which there are no Neptune-sized planets is referred to as the ‘Neptunian desert’. This is a reference to the fact that, until now, no medium-sized planets similar to Neptune have been found at this distance – only large planets comparable with Jupiter and smaller planets like Mars. This has now changed; in 2018, a group of researchers in Chile, co-funded by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) used one of the telescopes in the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) array to discover a planet in one such Neptunian desert. The planet has been named NGTS-4b as it is orbiting the dwarf star NGTS-4, which is located approximately 900 light years from the Solar System.

    Planet NGTS-4b has an orbital period of just 32 hours – equivalent to just over one-and-a-quarter Earth days. This is many times shorter than even Mercury – the planet with the shortest year within the Solar System – which has a year that lasts 88 Earth days. With an estimated diameter of almost 40,000 kilometres, NGTS-4b is about 20 percent smaller than Neptune and has three times the radius of Earth. Many of the nearly 4000 previously discovered extrasolar planets have similar dimensions. However, multi-planetary systems – in which planets orbit a star at Earth-like or greater distances and at a comparatively ‘leisurely’ speed – are still the exception in the exoplanet catalogues.

    How does NGTS-4b resist atmosphere stripping?

    The atmospheric properties of NGTS-4b have made its discovery extremely significant within the scientific community. “It is thought that NGTS-4b has only survived because it has a particularly large core, or because it migrated close to its host star only at a later stage, once the star’s radiation had already reduced,” says Philipp Eigmüller, one of the six scientists from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin who were involved in the discovery. Normally, a planet with the mass of Neptune and a similar composition would very quickly lose its shell of hydrogen and helium due to the strong radiation from its host star, leaving only the exposed core. A similar scenario is also under discussion for the early evolution of the planet Mercury. Larger bodies exert a stronger attraction on their outer shell because of their greater mass and thus prevent the loss of their atmosphere.

    3
    The image shows the distribution of exoplanets by mass (Y-axis) and orbital period (X-axis). The newly discovered planet NGTS-4b lies in the Neptunian desert, a relatively sparsely populated area (image after Eigmüller, Sterne und Weltraum, May 2019).

    The NGTS telescope array has detected the weakest transit signal to date

    The NGTS telescope array has 12 automatic telescopes that use the transit method to search for planets in other star systems. Each telescope observes a section of sky that is approximately three degrees across. The telescopes record the very small dip in brightness that occurs when a planet passes in front of its host star.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    The transit signals of the planet that has now been discovered are the weakest with which a planet has ever been discovered from the ground. The star NGTS-4 is not visible from Earth with the naked eye. Its apparent brightness is about the same as that of Pluto, on the outer edge of the Solar System – over six million times lower than the apparent brightness of Jupiter. During its transits, NGTS-4b decreases the brightness of its hosts star by only approximately 0.13 percent. No other ground-based search programme is capable of detecting such weak signals.

    Data from the NGTS telescope array are freely available

    Since the telescope array began searching for extrasolar planets in 2016, 1.7 terabytes of data have been made available. This includes measurements of 200,000 stars and their light curves. The discovery of four planets has been confirmed since NGTS was commissioned. Approximately 4000 extrasolar planets are known today. “Each one is like a piece of the puzzle with which we can understand more and more about the formation and evolution of planets,” says Eigmüller. The data from the first year of observations by NGTS with all 12 telescopes (April 2016 – April 2017) are freely accessible online in the ESO Archive and are open to evaluation by scientists all over the world.

    About NGTS

    The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) telescope array was built by a consortium of British, Swiss and German institutions and is located at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. There, it benefits from excellent observing conditions and technical support from the other facilities. It is designed for large-scale sky surveys and was funded largely by DLR, which provided eight of the 12 cameras. Scientists from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research evaluate the data as part of an international team. NGTS is designed in such a way that it continuously and fully automatically measures the brightness of several hundred thousand comparatively bright stars in the southern sky as it searches for exoplanet transits.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    DLR Center

    DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

    DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:16 pm on November 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: DLR, Missions aplenty coming along, The art of planetary research   

    From DLR: “The art of planetary research” 

    DLR Bloc

    German Aerospace Center

    Interview with Heike Rauer and Tilman Spohn

    1

    Contacts

    Julia Heil
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Corporate Communications
    Tel.: +49 2203 601-3771
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249

    Prof.Dr. Tilman Spohn
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    DLR Institute of Planetary Research
    Tel.: +49 30 67055-300
    Fax: +49 30 67055-303

    Heike Rauer
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    DLR Institute of Planetary Research
    Tel.: +49 30 67055-430
    Fax: +49 30 67055-384

    Interview with Tilman Spohn, Head of the DLR Institute for Planetary Research until the end of October, and Heike Rauer, current Head of the research institute since 1 November 2017

    They talk about past and future missions, and how the importance of images in planetary science to fascinate people.

    Focus: Planetary research

    How did the Solar System form? Are we alone in the Universe? What scientific methods can we use to prove the existence of extraterrestrial lifeforms? These questions fascinate scientists and non-scientists alike. Planetary research seeks to find answers. Numerous missions and projects to explore the Solar System and neighbouring planets have revealed a varied image of the Universe, bringing scientists gradually closer to resolving these issues. Tilman Spohn, Head of the Institute of Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) until the end of October, and Professor Heike Rauer, who has been Head of the research Institute since 1 November 2017, are convinced that it will not be long until we discover clear indications for the existence of other life forms. In this interview, they discuss their fascination with planetary research, the power of images, current and past missions – as well as candy.

    This interview was conducted by Julia Heil

    How did you end up in the field of planetary research?

    Spohn: It was a long and winding road for me. In my youth I was interested in art and theatre. But my father insisted that I learn a proper profession, so I enrolled in an architecture course, but that did not work out. Then I remembered a book I had recently read entitled ‘Die moderne Physik’ – modern physics – which prompted me to sign up for a course in physics at the University of Mainz. I stayed with it until the end. I became involved in planetary research during my post-doc in the United States. At a conference, I saw images of Saturn and its moons taken by the Voyager orbiter – and I lost my heart to them.

    Rauer: At school, I actually wanted to study art, but was unable to get a place at the time. So I remembered my original fascination as a child: the Apollo mission and Skylab. That is why I decided to study physics. Even if I had been offered a place for an art degree the following year, I would not have gone back.

    Art and planetary research: how do they fit together?

    Rauer: Images are an important medium to convey what we do. We are able to provide genuine, real images of planets or asteroids. They capture the hearts and minds of people, beyond their scientific benefits. I believe it is this factor that makes space travel so fascinating. We travel to distant worlds and come back with pictures. Doing so certainly includes an artistic component. For instance, I once organised a small art show with students at the Institute, in which they were asked to consider their research work from the perspective of an artist.

    We also see the significance of images in the area of extrasolar planets. They are so far away that we cannot physically go there. So we are hugely dependent on artists to depict our measurement values. Visual stimulation is part of being human, and images are the most memorable medium. But just to be clear, research results are not gained primarily through images. In most cases, a large number of institutes work together on measurement data from numerous instruments in order to obtain their scientific results.

    The Rosetta mission travelled for 10 years before reaching its destination.

    ESA/Rosetta spacecraft

    What does it feel like to finally receive the first data from these missions and acquire new insights into hidden worlds?

    Spohn: Of course, it is always fascinating to see real images or measurement data for the first time. I remember like it was yesterday how surprised I was when I glimpsed the first images of Pluto. The rugged morphology of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that we explored on the Rosetta mission shocked me at first. Like my colleagues, I asked how we would ever manage to safely land the Philae lander on that surface.

    We like to think that we know what properties distant locations will possess. Many people believed that other stellar systems would be similar to ours. But every time we venture out into uncharted territory, it turns out to be completely different to what we would have been able to imagine. Take the asteroid Vesta, for instance. I would never have thought that it would have such a distinct structure with troughs running around the equator. These kinds of details fascinate us our entire lives. This is not only true for us, but also for the young people working here at the Institute.

    Rauer: These are very exciting times. From the Voyager mission that reached the boundary of the Solar System to the research of exoplanets: these areas have cast planetary research in an entirely new light.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    Everything we have done has led to surprises. Today, the various areas are converging more and more. Whether or not a planet belongs to the Solar System is increasingly unimportant to its research. We can now gaze much further into the Universe than we could 50 years ago. We are currently preparing the PLATO mission, which is specifically designed to search for extrasolar planets that may harbour life.

    ESA/PLATO

    This is another step toward answering the question of whether we are alone in the Universe. I am personally convinced that life exists on other planets. We only need to find and recognise it. So I am already looking forward to a future mission that will detect biosignatures on exoplanets, even if it means that I might no longer be able to play an active role in this.

    Spohn: Planetary research always extends over generations. Some colleagues who helped to launch the Rosetta mission are unfortunately no longer with us. Nevertheless they gladly accepted that, by the time the mission came to fruition, they might be unable to actively follow its course. In a way, we are doing the same thing. For instance, BepiColombo, a mission that is very dear to me, will soon be launched by other people.

    ESA/JAXA BepiColombo

    Looking to the future from today’s perspective, what are you looking forward to?

    Rauer: The next 10 years will be extremely interesting. We will fly to Mercury with BepiColombo and search for traces of life on Mars with the ExoMars mission. The CHEOPS mission will accurately characterise exoplanets, and PLATO will do the same for other planets that might indeed resemble Earth …

    Spohn: …the InSight mission will set up a geophysical observatory on Mars, and our heat flow probe HP3 will burrow into the surface of the Red Planet.

    NASA Mars Insight Lander

    The ExoMars rover Pasteur will search for traces of life on the planet using data from Mars Express.

    ESA/ExoMars

    .

    ESA/Mars Express Orbiter

    In addition, the JUICE mission will be on its way to Jupiter to explore the planet’s moons.

    ESA/Juice spacecraft

    These are just a few of the missions we are currently working on; others are in planning. So a great deal of exciting things lie ahead. The geophysicist Maurice Ewing once said that geophysics is like a candy store where you can help yourself to as much as you like without paying. If that is true, planetary research is an entire candy department store.

    Rauer: One thing is certain: all these missions, projects and ventures will bring plenty of surprises.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    DLR Center

    DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

    DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

     
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