Tagged: Exoplanet research Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 10:04 am on July 2, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A chance to see a planet’s interior", , , , , , Exoplanet research, The planetary core named TOI 849 b,   

    From University of Warwick via COSMOS: “A chance to see a planet’s interior” 

    From University of Warwick

    via

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS

    2 July 2020

    1
    An artist’s impression of a Neptune-sized planet in the Neptunian Desert. Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

    Astronomers have discovered the surviving core of a gas giant orbiting a distant star, offering, they say, an unprecedented glimpse into the interior of a planet.

    Writing in the journal Nature, a team led by the University of Warwick, UK, says the core, named TOI 849 b, is the size of Neptune and is likely a gas giant that either was stripped of its gaseous atmosphere or failed to form one in its early life.

    Located 730 light-years away, it orbits so close to its host star that a year is a mere 18 hours and its surface temperature is around 1800 degrees Kelvin.

    “TOI 849 b is the most massive terrestrial planet – that has an earth like density – discovered,” says lead author David Armstrong.

    “We would expect a planet this massive to have accreted large quantities of hydrogen and helium when it formed, growing into something similar to Jupiter.

    “The fact that we don’t see those gases lets us know this is an exposed planetary core. This is the first time that we’ve discovered an intact exposed core of a gas giant around a star.”

    TOI 849 b was found in the Neptunian Desert – a term used, Armstrong says, for a region close to stars where we rarely see planets of Neptune’s mass or larger – by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    It was then analysed using the Harps instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    ESO/HARPS at La Silla

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    This utilises the Doppler effect to measure the mass of exoplanets by measuring their wobble – small movements towards and away from us that register as tiny shifts in the star’s spectrum of light.

    2
    Doppler effect. Iken Edu

    Armstrong and colleague determined that its mass is two to three times higher than Neptune’s and that it is also incredibly dense, with all the material that makes up that mass squashed into an object the same size.

    “While this is an unusually massive planet, it’s a long way from the most massive we know, but it is the most massive we know for its size, and extremely dense for something the size of Neptune, which tells us this planet has a very unusual history,” Armstrong says.

    “The fact that it’s in a strange location for its mass also helps; we don’t see planets with this mass at these short orbital periods.”

    Armstrong says the discovery provides an opportunity “to look at the core of a planet in a way that we can’t do in our own Solar System”.

    “There are still big open questions about the nature of Jupiter’s core, for example, so strange and unusual exoplanets like this give us a window into planet formation that we have no other way to explore.”

    He is also confident researchers will be able to find out more about the planet’s chemical composition.

    “Because TOI 849 b is so close to the star, any remaining atmosphere around the planet has to be constantly replenished from the core,” he says. “So if we can measure that atmosphere then we can get an insight into the composition of the core itself.”
    Cosmos Magazine
    Cosmos

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The establishment of the The University of Warwick was given approval by the government in 1961 and received its Royal Charter of Incorporation in 1965.

    The idea for a university in Coventry was mooted shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War but it was a bold and imaginative partnership of the City and the County which brought the University into being on a 400-acre site jointly granted by the two authorities. Since then, the University has incorporated the former Coventry College of Education in 1978 and has extended its land holdings by the purchase of adjoining farm land.

    The University initially admitted a small intake of graduate students in 1964 and took its first 450 undergraduates in October 1965. In October 2013, the student population was over 23,000 of which 9,775 are postgraduates. Around a third of the student body comes from overseas and over 120 countries are represented on the campus.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:41 am on July 1, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "How dust could make some exoplanets more habitable", , , , , , Exoplanet research   

    From EarthSky: “How dust could make some exoplanets more habitable” 

    1

    From EarthSky

    July 1, 2020
    Paul Scott Anderson

    A new study from scientists in the UK suggests that atmospheric dust could increase the habitability of some exoplanets, especially those orbiting red dwarf stars.

    1
    Three computer simulations depicting how airborne dust can be distributed by winds on rocky exoplanets like Earth. Image via Denis Sergeev/ University of Exeter/ ScienceAlert.

    What makes a planet habitable? Various factors can affect a planet’s ability to sustain life, such as temperature, amount of water, composition of both the planet and its atmosphere and the amount of radiation from the host star. Last month, researchers in the U.K. said they’ve found that a common component of atmospheres – dust – could increase the habitability of some exoplanets.

    The peer-reviewed results were published in Nature Communications on June 9, 2020.

    Researchers from the University of Exeter, the Met Office and the University of East Anglia (UEA) were involved in the new study.

    2
    Effects of dust on the climate of planets. For a tidally locked planet (a) and non-tidally locked planet (b), panels a–d show the base state of the planets, e–h show the short- (stellar) and long-wave (infra-red) forcing (change in surface energy balance) introduced by dust and i–j show the resultant effect of the forcing on the surface temperature. Blue arrows show the motion of the planet around the star, and green arrows show the rotation of the planet relative to the star. Image via Boutle et al./ Nature Communications.

    From the paper:

    “Identification of habitable planets beyond our solar system is a key goal of current and future space missions. Yet habitability depends not only on the stellar irradiance, but equally on constituent parts of the planetary atmosphere. Here we show, for the first time, that radiatively active mineral dust will have a significant impact on the habitability of Earth-like exoplanets.”

    In our own solar system, Mars typically comes to mind when we think of a dusty world, yet it remains a cold, dry planet on the surface due to its very thin atmosphere. But for some exoplanets, especially those that are tidally locked to their stars, it could be a different situation. Ian Boutle, from both the Met Office and University of Exeter and lead author of the study, said in a statement:

    “On Earth and Mars, dust storms have both cooling and warming effects on the surface, with the cooling effect typically winning out. But these ‘synchronised orbit’ planets are very different. Here, the dark sides of these planets are in perpetual night, and the warming effect wins out, whereas on the dayside, the cooling effect wins out. The effect is to moderate the temperature extremes, thus making the planet more habitable.”

    The dust factor is especially significant for planets orbiting red dwarf stars, the most common type of star in our galaxy. Many planets around those stars are likely to be tidally locked, orbiting with one side of the planet always facing the star, just as the moon always keeps one side facing Earth. Those planets would have one side always in daylight, and the other always in darkness. If there is a lot of dust, that could help cool down the hotter day side, and warm the colder night side.

    3
    Artist’s concept of a cloudy and rocky exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. Dust in the atmospheres of planets like this could moderate the temperature extremes if the planets are tidally locked, helping to make them more habitable. Image via L. Hustak/ J. Olmsted (STScI)/ NASA.

    In an interesting scenario, dust could help hot planets retain their surface water, if they have any. A planet that is really hot, like Venus, could be cooled down by enough dust in the atmosphere. The amount of dust would then increase as water starts to be lost on the planet’s surface, which, ironically, in a process called negative climate feedback, would then slow down the loss of water. From the paper:

    “On tidally-locked planets, dust cools the day-side and warms the night-side, significantly widening the habitable zone. Independent of orbital configuration, we suggest that airborne dust can postpone planetary water loss at the inner edge of the habitable zone, through a feedback involving decreasing ocean coverage and increased dust loading.”

    The amount of energy a planet receives from its star is an important part of assessing habitability, but as Manoj Joshi from UEA noted, the composition of the atmosphere, including dust, is also very important:

    “Airborne dust is something that might keep planets habitable, but also obscures our ability to find signs of life on these planets. These effects need to be considered in future research.”

    The researchers performed a series of simulations of rocky Earth-sized planets and found that naturally occurring mineral dust can have a big impact on the habitability of such planets.

    4
    Mars is a very dusty place, and massive dust storms are common, but the dust doesn’t warm the planet much since the atmosphere is so thin. Image via SA/ Roscosmos/ CaSSIS/ CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ New Scientist.

    Duncan Lyster, who ran an undergraduate experiment as part of the overall study (and now builds his own surfboards), also said:

    “It’s exciting to see the results of the practical research in my final year of study paying off. I was working on a fascinating exoplanet atmosphere simulation project, and was lucky enough to be part of a group who could take it on to the level of world-class research.”

    The researchers also point out that dust in a planet’s atmosphere must be taken into account when searching for possible biomarkers in that atmosphere. Those biomarkers could include gases such as oxygen, methane and ozone, and if there also was enough dust, the dust could obscure the detection of them, producing a false negative result. If potential biomarkers were missed in that way, the planet might be erroneously characterized as uninhabitable. Such biomarkers, which will be searched for with upcoming space telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and others, will be a crucial aspect of the search for evidence of life beyond our solar system. Identifying them is already a challenge due to the extreme distances to these worlds, so knowing the amount of dust in a planetary atmosphere will be important as well. From the paper:

    “The inclusion of dust significantly obscures key biomarker gases (e.g. ozone, methane) in simulated transmission spectra, implying an important influence on the interpretation of observations. We demonstrate that future observational and theoretical studies of terrestrial exoplanets must consider the effect of dust.”

    Nathan Mayne from the University of Exeter, who assisted with the study, also noted how astrophysics in general will play a large role. He said:

    “Research such as this is only possible by crossing disciplines and combing the excellent understanding and techniques developed to study our own planet’s climate, with cutting edge astrophysics. To be able to involve undergraduate physics students in this, and other projects, also provides an excellent opportunity for those studying with us to directly develop the skills needed in such technical and collaborative projects. With game-changing facilities such as the JWST and E-ELT, becoming available in the near future, and set to provide a huge leap forward in the study of exoplanets, now is a great time to study physics!”

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    ESO/E-ELT, 39 meter telescope to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    The new assessment regarding exoplanetary dust will be very beneficial to scientists who will be looking for biomarkers and other evidence for habitable exoworlds, as well as studying how dust can affect a planet’s climate and environment overall.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:31 am on April 17, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Cheops observes its first exoplanets and is ready for science", , , , , , , Exoplanet research   

    From European Space Agency – United Space in Europe: “Cheops observes its first exoplanets and is ready for science” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency – United Space in Europe

    4.16.20

    Nicola Rando
    ESA Cheops project manager
    Email: nicola.rando@esa.int

    Kate Isaak
    ESA Cheops project scientist
    Email: kate.isaak@esa.int

    Carlos Corral van Damme
    ESA Cheops System Principal Engineer
    Email: carlos.corral.van.damme@esa.int

    ESA Media Relations
    Email: media@esa.int

    ESA/CHEOPS

    Cheops, ESA’s new exoplanet mission, has successfully completed its almost three months of in-orbit commissioning, exceeding expectations for its performance. The satellite, which will commence routine science operations by the end of April, has already obtained promising observations of known exoplanet-hosting stars, with many exciting discoveries to come.

    “The in-orbit commissioning phase was an exciting period, and we are pleased we were able to meet all requirements,” says Nicola Rando, Cheops project manager at ESA. “The satellite platform and instrument performed remarkably, and both the Mission and Science Operation Centres supported operations impeccably.”

    Launched in December 2019, Cheops, or the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, opened its eye to the Universe at the end of January and shortly after took its first, intentionally blurred images of stars. The deliberate defocusing is at the core of the mission’s observing strategy, which improves the measurement precision by spreading the light coming from distant stars over many pixels of its detector.

    Precision is key in today’s exoplanet research. More than 4000 planets – and counting – are known to be orbiting stars other than the Sun. A key follow-on is to start to characterise these planets, providing constraints on their structure, formation and evolution.

    Taking the steps to characterise exoplanets through the precise measurement of their sizes – in particular those of smaller planets – is exactly the mission of Cheops. Before being declared ready for the task, however, the small, 1.5 metre sized satellite had to pass a large number of tests.

    Outstanding performance

    With the first series of in-flight tests, performed between January and February, the mission experts started analysing the response of the satellite, and in particular of the telescope and detector, in the actual space environment. Proceeding into March, Cheops focused on well-studied stars.

    “To measure how well Cheops performs we first needed to observe stars whose properties are well known, stars that are well-behaved – hand-picked to be very stable, with no signs of activity” says Kate Isaak, Cheops project scientist at ESA.

    2
    An image of the star HD 88111, which is not known to host any exoplanets, taken by Cheops during the mission’s in-orbit commissioning.

    This approach enabled the teams at ESA, the mission consortium, and Airbus Spain – the prime contractor – to verify that the satellite is as precise and stable as needed to meet its ambitious goals.

    “The pointing is extremely stable: this means that while the telescope observes a star for hours while the spacecraft moves along its orbit, the image of the star remains always within the same group of pixels in the detector,” explains Carlos Corral van Damme, ESA’s System Principal Engineer for Cheops.

    “Such a great stability is a combination of the excellent performance of the equipment and of the bespoke pointing algorithms, and will be especially important to fulfill the scientific objectives of the mission. The thermal stability of the telescope and the detector has also proven to be even better than required,” adds Carlos.

    The commissioning period demonstrated that Cheops achieves the required photometric precision and, importantly, it also showed that the satellite can be commanded by the ground segment team as needed to perform its science observations.

    “We were thrilled when we realised that all the systems worked as expected or even better than expected,” says Cheops Instrument Scientist Andrea Fortier, who led the commissioning team of the consortium for the University of Bern, Switzerland.

    Time for exoplanets

    3
    The first exoplanet light curve obtained by Cheops, along with a comparison of the star’s and planet’s size with the Sun, Jupiter and Earth.

    During the final two weeks of in-orbit commissioning, Cheops observed two exoplanet-hosting stars as the planets ‘transited’ in front of their host star and blocked a fraction of starlight. Observing transits of known exoplanets is what the mission was built for – to measure planet sizes with unprecedented precision and accuracy and to determine their densities by combining these with independent measurements of their masses.

    One of the targets was HD 93396, a subgiant yellow star located 320 light-years away, slightly cooler and three times larger than our Sun. The focus of the observations was KELT-11b, a puffy gaseous planet about 30% larger in size than Jupiter, in an orbit that is much closer to the star than Mercury is to the Sun.

    The light curve of this star shows a clear dip caused by the eight hour-long transit of KELT-11b. From these data, the scientists have determined very precisely the diameter of the planet: 181,600 km – with an uncertainty just under 4300 km.

    The measurements made by Cheops are five times more accurate than those from Earth, explains Willy Benz, Principal Investigator of the Cheops mission consortium, and professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern. “That gives us a foretaste for what we can achieve with Cheops over the months and years to come,” he says.

    A formal review of the satellite performance and ground segment operations was held on 25 March, and Cheops passed it with flying colours. With this, ESA handed over responsibility for operating the mission to the consortium led by Willy Benz.

    Fortunately, the commissioning activities were not affected much by the ensuing emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in social distancing measures and restrictions to movement across Europe to prevent the spread of the virus.

    “The ground segment has been working very smoothly from early on, which enabled us to fully automate most of the operations for commanding the satellite and downlinking the data already in the first few weeks after launch,” explains Carlos. “By the time the crisis emerged in March, with the new rules and regulations that came with it, the automated systems meant that the impact on the mission was minimal.”

    Cheops is currently transitioning towards routine science operations, which are expected to begin before the end of April. Scientists have started observing some of the ‘early science targets’ – a selection of stars and planetary systems chosen to showcase examples of what the mission can achieve: these include a ‘hot super-Earth’ planet known as 55 Cancri e, which is covered in a lava ocean, as well as the ‘warm Neptune’ GJ 436b, which is losing its atmosphere due to the glare from its host star. Another star on the list of upcoming Cheops observations is a white dwarf, the first target from ESA’s Guest Observers Programme, which provides scientists from beyond the mission consortium with the opportunity to use the mission and capitalize on its observational capabilities.

    More about Cheops

    Cheops is an ESA mission developed in partnership with Switzerland, with a dedicated consortium led by the University of Bern, and with important contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

    ESA is the Cheops mission architect, responsible for procurement and testing of the satellite, launch, the launch and early operations phase, in-orbit commissioning, as well as the Guest Observers’ Programme. The consortium of 11 ESA Member States led by Switzerland provided essential elements of the mission. The prime contractor for the design and construction of the spacecraft is Airbus Defence and Space in Madrid, Spain.

    The Cheops mission consortium runs the Mission Operations Centre located at INTA, in Torrejón de Ardoz near Madrid, Spain, and the Science Operations Centre, located at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

    ESA50 Logo large

     
  • richardmitnick 10:02 am on April 17, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Cheops: the science begins" Video, , , , , Exoplanet research   

    From European Space Agency – United Space in Europe: “Cheops: the science begins” Video 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency – United Space in Europe

    ESA/CHEOPS

    ESA’s first mission dedicated to the study of exoplanets is about to start its science operations after successfully completing its in-orbit commissioning phase.

    Cheops (Characterising Exoplanet Satellite) was launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 18 December 2019. Since then the telescope cover opened and started observing its first stars. Now that the spacecraft, telescope’s optical performance, detectors and electronics are all working as planned, Cheops will study hundreds of known exoplanets orbiting bright stars. The mission will use the transit method – recording the minute dip in light as a planet passes in front of its host star – to measure planet sizes with unprecedented precision and accuracy and to determine their densities by combining these with independent measurements of their masses.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames.

    Cheops is a small (or S class) mission in ESA’s Science Programme, developed as a partnership with Switzerland, with important contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The science mission will continue until October 2023 and will expand our understanding of exoplanets and the Universe we live in.

    Cheops: the science begins. Watch the video

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

    ESA50 Logo large

     
  • richardmitnick 9:58 am on February 19, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Exoplanet research, , NEID-an extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer, WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona USA   

    From Macquarie University: “New starlight collector detects earth-sized planets outside our solar system” 

    From Macquarie University

    7 February 2020 [Just now in social media]
    Virginia Tressider

    For the first time we will be able to see the light from unimaginably distant stars thanks to a breakthrough astronomical instrument designed by Macquarie astrophysicist Christian Schwab.

    A new extreme-precision instrument is set to discover the movement and composition of stars beyond our solar system and the Earth-sized planets that may surround them.

    1
    Galaxies far away: Schwab’s precision instrument will enable astronomers to search for planets around these stars, captured in this photo by the Hubble Telescope. Image: courtesy of NASA.

    Images such as this, captured by the Hubble telescope, will reveal more heavenly data with Schwab’s precision instrument and will enable astronomers to search for planets around these stars.

    Dr Christian Schwab, an astrophysicist in Macquarie’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is lead optical designer of the new instrument intended to measure the movement of astronomically ‘nearby’ stars around three times more accurately than the previous generation of high-tech astronomical instruments.

    The device detects light no human eye could ever see and is built to detect exoplanets – planets outside our solar system. Not only is it expected to be able to detect planets about the size of Earth, but also gather enough information to work out their mass and establish if they’re rocky planets like Earth, gas planets like Jupiter, or another type.

    Astronomy has come a very long way since Galileo started peering into telescopes. Modern astronomers still spend long nights observing, but these days they’re more likely to be observing a computer screen, than spending weeks and months analysing the massive amounts of data captured by the instruments within the telescope.

    The astronomer chooses where to point the telescope. Then a computer stores the data collected from the faint trickle of light from incredibly distant objects. For an idea of the distances involved, star 51 Pegasi, the first sun-like star found to host an exoplanet, is (approximately) four hundred and seventy-seven trillion, two hundred and ninety-three billion, eight hundred and fifty-two million, three hundred and forty-one thousand, seven hundred and one kilometres away.

    2
    This artist’s view shows the hot Jupiter exoplanet 51 Pegasi b, sometimes referred to as Bellerophon, which orbits a star about 50 light-years from Earth in the northern constellation of Pegasus (The Winged Horse). This was the first exoplanet around a normal star to be found in 1995. Twenty years later this object was also the first exoplanet to be be directly detected spectroscopically in visible light. ESO/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (http://www.skysurvey.org)

    Collecting starlight in the Arizona Desert

    Schwab’s new instrument, an extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer, is collecting starlight on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, a program of the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory.

    NOAO WIYN 3.5 meter telescope at Kitt Peak, AZ, USA, Altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)


    NOAO WIYN 3.5 meter telescope at Kitt Peak, AZ, USA, Altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)

    Kitt Peak National Observatory of the Quinlan Mountains in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers 55 mi west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)

    Situated on Tohono O’odham Nation land in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert, Schwab’s exoplanet-hunting spectrograph NEID – the name means ‘to see’ in the Tohono O’odham language, and it’s also an approximate acronym for NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler spectroscopy – is now looking to the skies to discover Earth-mass exoplanets.

    NEID chamber for the WIYN telescope. Photos courtesy of NOAO WIYN and Washburn Labs-University of Wisconsin.

    3
    Final frontier: Astronomers make adjustments to the spectrograph at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, USA.

    NEID detects exoplanets, not by trying to see them, but by measuring the subtle effect these planets have on their parent stars. The spectrometer measures the way the star’s spectral lines are displaced due to the Doppler Effect – in other words, how light from the star is shifted towards the red or blue end of the spectrum.

    Planets tug gravitationally on the star they orbit, producing a small ‘wobble’ — a periodic shift in the velocity of the star.

    Radial Velocity Method-Las Cumbres Observatory

    Radial velocity Image via SuperWasp http:// http://www.superwasp.org/exoplanets.htm

    This happens in our own solar system — Jupiter causes the Sun to move at roughly 47 km/h, while the Earth generates a gentler movement, with a speed of only 0.3 km/h. Because the size of the wobble is proportional to an orbiting planet’s mass, NEID measurements can be used to determine the masses of exoplanets. Current instruments can measure speeds as low as a slow walking pace of 3.5 km/h, but NEID was built to detect even lower speeds — potentially uncovering Earth-mass exoplanets.

    Schwab explains: “The optical design for this spectrograph was challenging, as we wanted to achieve practically perfect image quality over a very broad range of wavelengths, spanning from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared part of the spectrum.

    “At the same time, the optics, with 300mm diameter lenses and a very heavy, custom prism, had to be built on a fast timeline. We came up with a novel design that delivers excellent images with fewer lenses, which makes it easier to stabilise it to the extreme degree required by the tiny exoplanet signals.”

    Exoplanet hunters join forces

    Already an impressive exoplanet-hunting machine, NEID becomes even more powerful in partnership with space observatories, such as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    “When we combine future NEID observations with data from spacecraft, things will really get interesting, and we will be able to learn what planets are made of,” says NEID Project Scientist Jason Wright. “We will know the planet’s density, which is a clue to understanding how much of an atmosphere the planet has; is it gaseous like Saturn, an ice giant like Neptune, rocky like Earth, or something in between — a super-Earth or sub-Neptune?”

    Enabling NEID to make these measurements requires extreme precision — and an equally extreme instrument. Starlight collected by the WIYN telescope is fed by an optical fibre to a purpose-built thermal enclosure that encases the NEID instrument. To ensure that NEID measurements remain stable over the instrument’s five-year lifetime, its optics are held at a fixed temperature stable to within a thousandth of a degree.

    NEID’s scientific output will be further increased by making the instrument widely available to astronomers, in contrast to other precision radial velocity spectrometers.

    Exoplanets discovered with NEID will help identify targets for follow-up observations with upcoming facilities like the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to detect and characterize the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    This makes NEID an important part of the ongoing search for other earths, and takes us one step closer to finding out if there are truly Earth-like planets elsewhere in the Milky Way.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Macquarie University campus

    Established in 1964, Macquarie University began as a bold experiment in higher education. Built to break from traditions: to be distinctive, progressive, and to be transformational. Today our pioneering history continues to be a source of inspiration as we celebrate our place among the best and brightest minds.

    Recognised internationally, Macquarie University is consistently ranked in the top two per cent of universities in the world* and within the top 10 in Australia*.

    Our research is leading the way in ground-breaking discoveries. Our academics are at the forefront of innovation and, as accomplished researchers, we are embracing the opportunity to tackle the big issues of our time.

    Led by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor S Bruce Dowton, Macquarie is home to five faculties. The fifth and newest – Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences – was formed in 2014. We are also home to some of Australia’s most exceptional facilities – hubs of innovation that unite our students, researchers, academics and partners to achieve extraordinary things.

    Discover our story.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:09 pm on February 15, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Exoplanet research, , ,   

    From University of Washington via phys.org: “Earth’s cousins: Upcoming missions to look for ‘biosignatures’ in exoplanet atmospheres” 

    From University of Washington

    via


    phys.org

    February 15, 2020

    1
    Credit: CC0 Public Domain

    Scientists have discovered thousands of exoplanets, including dozens of terrestrial—or rocky—worlds in the habitable zones around their parent stars. A promising approach to search for signs of life on these worlds is to probe exoplanet atmospheres for “biosignatures”—quirks in chemical composition that are telltale signs of life. For example, thanks to photosynthesis, our atmosphere is nearly 21% oxygen, a much higher level than expected given Earth’s composition, orbit and parent star.

    Finding biosignatures is no straightforward task. Scientists use data about how exoplanet atmospheres interact with light from their parent star to learn about their atmospheres. But the information, or spectra, that they can gather using today’s ground- and space-based telescopes is too limited to measure atmospheres directly or detect biosignatures.

    Exoplanet researchers such as Victoria Meadows, a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, are focused on what forthcoming observatories, like the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, could measure in exoplanet atmospheres.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    On Feb. 15 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle, Meadows, a principal investigator of the UW’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, will deliver a talk to summarize what kind of data these new observatories can collect and what they can reveal about the atmospheres of terrestrial, Earth-like exoplanets. Meadows sat down with UW News to discuss the promise of these new missions to help us view exoplanets in a new light.

    Q: What changes are coming to the field of exoplanet research?

    In the next five to 10 years, we’ll potentially get our first chance to observe the atmospheres of terrestrial exoplanets. This is because new observatories are set to come online, including the James Webb Space Telescope and ground-based observatories like the Extremely Large Telescope.

    ESO/E-ELT, 39 meter telescopeto be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed and now approved for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level, the only giant 30 meter class telescope for the Northern hemisphere

    Giant Magellan Telescope, 21 meters, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

    A lot of our recent work at the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, as well as by colleagues at other institutions, has focused on simulating what Earth-like exoplanets will “look” like to the JWST and ground-based telescopes. That allows us to understand the spectra that these telescopes will pick up, and what those data will and won’t tell us about those exoplanet atmospheres.

    Q: What types of exoplanet atmospheres will the JWST and other missions be able to characterize?

    Our targets are actually a select group of exoplanets that are nearby—within 40 light years—and orbit very small, cool stars. For reference, the Kepler mission identified exoplanets around stars that are more than 1,000 light years away.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    The smaller host stars also help us get better signals on what the planetary atmospheres are made of because the thin layer of planetary atmosphere can block more of a smaller star’s light.

    So there are a handful of exoplanets we’re focusing on to look for signs of habitability and life. All were identified by ground-based surveys like TRAPPIST and its successor, SPECULOOS—both run by the University of Liège—as well as the MEarth Project run by Harvard.

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile


    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    ESO Speculoos telescopes four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes at ESO Paranal Observatory 2635 metres 8645 ft above sea level

    The most well-known exoplanets in this group are probably the seven terrestrial planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1.

    A size comparison of the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, lined up in order of increasing distance from their host star. The planetary surfaces are portrayed with an artist’s impression of their potential surface features, including water, ice, and atmospheres. NASA


    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    TRAPPIST-1 is an M-dwarf star—one of the smallest you can have and still be a star—and its seven exoplanets span interior to and beyond the habitable zone, with three in the habitable zone.

    We’ve identified TRAPPIST-1 as the best system to study because this star is so small that we can get fairly large and informative signals off of the atmospheres of these worlds. These are all cousins to Earth, but with a very different parent star, so it will be very interesting to see what their atmospheres are like.

    Q: What have you learned so far about the atmospheres of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets?

    The astronomy community has taken observations of the TRAPPIST-1 system, but we haven’t seen anything but “non-detections.” That can still tell us a lot. For example, observations and models suggest that these exoplanet atmospheres are less likely to be dominated by hydrogen, the lightest element. That means they either don’t have atmospheres at all, or they have relatively high-density atmospheres like Earth.

    Q: No atmospheres at all? What would cause that?

    M-dwarf stars have a very different history than our own sun. After their infancy, sun-like stars brighten over time as they undergo fusion.

    M-dwarfs start out big and bright, as they gravitationally collapse to the size they will then have for most of their lifetimes. So, M-dwarf planets could be subjected to long periods of time—perhaps as along as a billion years—of high-intensity luminosity. That could strip a planet of its atmosphere, but volcanic activity can also replenish atmospheres. Based on their densities, we know that many of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are likely to have reservoirs of compounds—at much higher levels than Earth, actually—that could replenish the atmosphere. The first significant JWST results for TRAPPIST-1 will be: Which worlds retained atmospheres? And what types of atmospheres are they?

    I’m quietly optimistic that they do have atmospheres because of those reservoirs, which we’re still detecting. But I’m willing to be surprised by the data.

    What types of signals will the JWST and other observatories look for in the atmospheres of TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets. Probably the easiest signal to look for will be the presence of carbon dioxide.

    Q: Is CO2 a biosignature?

    Not on its own, and not just from a single signal. I always tell my students—look right, look left. Both Venus and Mars have atmospheres with high levels of CO2, but no life. In Earth’s atmosphere, CO2 levels adjust with our seasons. In spring, levels draw down as plants grow and take CO2 out of the atmosphere. In autumn, plants break down and CO2 rises. So if you see seasonal cycling, that might be a biosignature. But seasonal observations are very unlikely with JWST.

    Instead, JWST can look for another potential biosignature, methane gas in the presence of CO2. Methane should normally have a short lifetime with CO2. So if we detect both together, something is probably actively producing methane. On Earth, most of the methane in our atmosphere is produced by life.

    Q: What about detecting oxygen?

    Oxygen alone is not a biosignature. It depends on its levels and what else is in the atmosphere. You could have an oxygen-rich atmosphere from the loss of an ocean, for example: Light splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen escapes into space, and oxygen builds up into the atmosphere.

    The JWST likely won’t directly pick up oxygen from oxygenic photosynthesis—the biosphere we’re used to now. The Extremely Large Telescope and related observatories might be able to, because they’ll be looking at a different wavelength than the JWST, where they will have a better chance of seeing oxygen. The JWST will be better for detecting biospheres similar to what we had on Earth billions of years ago, and for differentiating between different types of atmospheres.

    Q: What are some of the different types of atmospheres that TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets might possess?

    The M-dwarf’s high-luminosity phase might drive a planet toward an atmosphere with a runaway greenhouse effect, like Venus. As I said earlier, you could lose an ocean and have an oxygen-rich atmosphere. A third possibility is to have something more Earth-like.

    Q: Let’s talk about that second possibility. How could JWST reveal an oxygen-rich atmosphere if it can’t detect oxygen directly?

    The beauty of the JWST is that it can pick up processes happening in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. It will pick up the signatures of collisions between oxygen molecules, which will happen more often in an oxygen-rich atmosphere. So we likely can’t see oxygen amounts associated with a photosynthetic biosphere. But if a much larger amount of oxygen was left behind from ocean loss, we can probably see the collisions of oxygen in the spectrum, and that’s probably a sign that the exoplanet has lost an ocean.

    So, JWST is unlikely to give us conclusive proof of biosignatures but may provide some tantalizing hints, which require further follow-up and—moving forward—thinking about new missions beyond the JWST. NASA is already considering new missions. What would we like their capabilities to be?

    That also brings me to a very important point: Exoplanet science is massively interdisciplinary. Understanding the environment of these worlds requires considering orbit, composition, history and host star—and requires the input of astronomers, geologists, atmospheric scientists, stellar scientists. It really takes a village to understand a planet.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    About Science X in 100 words

    Science X™ is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004 (Physorg.com), Science X’s readership has grown steadily to include 5 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Science X publishes approximately 200 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Science X community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.
    Mission 12 reasons for reading daily news on Science X Organization Key editors and writersinclude 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:11 pm on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Exoplanet research, , New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI on the Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope located in San Diego County California USA   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “NESSI Emerges as New Tool for Exoplanet Atmospheres” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    January 23, 2020
    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Written by Elizabeth Landau

    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope, Altitude 1,713 m (5,620 ft), located in San Diego County, California, United States

    The infrared instrument at Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope holds the promise of deepening our understanding of planets beyond our Sun.

    The darkness surrounding the Hale Telescope breaks with a sliver of blue sky as the dome begins to open, screeching with metallic, sci-fi-like sounds atop San Diego County’s Palomar Mountain. The historic observatory smells of the oil pumped in to support the bearings that make this giant telescope float ever so slightly as it moves to track the stars.

    Since February 2018, scientists have been testing an instrument at the Hale Telescope called the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, or NESSI.

    New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI on the Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope,located in San Diego County, California, United States

    A collaboration between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, NESSI was built to examine the atmospheres of planets that orbit stars beyond our Sun, or exoplanets, providing new insights into what these worlds are like.

    So far, NESSI has checked out two “hot Jupiters,” massive gas giants orbiting close to their stars and too scorching to sustain life. One, called HD 189773b, has such extreme temperatures and winds that it may rain glass sideways there. The other, WASP-33b, has a “sunscreen” layer of atmosphere, with molecules that absorb ultraviolet and visible light.

    Recently, NESSI observed these planets crossing their host stars, proving the instrument would be able to help confirm possible planets previously observed by other telescopes. Now it is ready for more detailed studies of distant cousins of our solar system. And while the instrument is designed to look at planets much larger than Earth, NESSI’s methods could be used to search for Earth-size planets someday as well once future technologies become available.

    “NESSI is a powerful tool to help us meet the family,” said Mark Swain, an astrophysicist and the JPL lead for NESSI. “Twenty-five years ago, to our best knowledge, we thought we were alone. Now we know that – at least in terms of planets – we’re not, and that this family is extensive and very diverse.”

    Why NESSI

    NESSI views the galaxy in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. It stares at individual stars to observe the dimming of light as a planet passes in front of its host star – an event called a transit. From the transit, astronomers can learn how big the planet is relative to its host star. When the planet passes directly behind the star and re-emerges, it’s called an eclipse. NESSI can look for signatures of molecules from the planet’s atmosphere detectable in starlight before and after the eclipse.

    Inside NESSI, devices that focus infrared light spread it into a rainbow, or spectrum, filtering it for particular wavelengths that relate to the atmospheric chemistry of distant planets.

    “We can pick out the parts of the spectrum where the molecules are, because that’s really what we’re looking for in the infrared in these exoplanets – molecular signatures of things like carbon dioxide and water and methane to tell us that there’s something interesting going on in that particular planet,” said Michelle Creech-Eakman, principal investigator for NESSI at New Mexico Tech.

    NESSI is equipped to follow up on discoveries from other observatories such as NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    TESS scans the entire sky in visible light for planets around bright, nearby stars, but the planet candidates it discovers must be confirmed through other methods. That is to make sure these signals TESS detects actually come from planet transits, not other sources.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    NESSI can also help bridge the science between TESS and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2021.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    The largest, most complex space observatory ever to fly, Webb will study individual planets to learn about their atmospheres and whether they contain molecules associated with habitability. But since Webb’s time will be precious, scientists want to point it only at the most interesting and accessible targets. For example, if NESSI sees no molecular signatures around a planet, that implies clouds are blocking its atmosphere, making it unlikely to be a good target for Webb.

    “This helps us see if a planet is clear or cloudy or hazy,” said Rob Zellem, an astrophysicist and the JPL commissioning lead on NESSI. “And if it’s clear, we’ll see the molecules. And if then we see the molecules, they’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s a great target to look at with James Webb or Hubble or anything else.'”

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    A Window to the Galaxy

    NESSI began as a concept in 2008 when Swain visited Creech-Eakman’s astrobiology class at New Mexico Tech. Over coffee, Swain told his colleague about exoplanet observations he had done with a ground-based telescope that didn’t turn out well. Creech-Eakman realized a different instrument combined with the right telescope could accomplish Swain’s goals. On a napkin, the two sketched an idea for what would become NESSI.

    They designed the instrument for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in Magdalena, New Mexico.

    3
    2.4-meter Telescope at Magdalena Ridge, Magdalena, New Mexico, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro County, New Mexico, USA, Altitude 3,230 m (10,600 ft)

    But once the researchers began using it in April 2014, the instrument didn’t work as expected.

    Swain suggested moving NESSI to Palomar’s 200-inch Hale Telescope, which is much larger and more powerful – and also more accessible for the team. Owned and operated by Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA, Palomar has designated observing nights for researchers from JPL.

    Relocating NESSI – a 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) blue, cylindrical device with wires coming out of it – wasn’t just a matter of placing it on a truck and driving southwest. The electrical and optical systems needed to be reworked for its new host and then tested again. NESSI also needed a way to communicate with a different telescope, so University of Arizona doctoral student Kyle Pearson developed software to operate the instrument at Palomar. By early 2018, NESSI was ready to climb the mountain.

    A crane lifted NESSI more than 100 feet (30 meters) to the top of the Hale Telescope on Feb. 1, 2018. Technicians installed the instrument in a “cage” at the Hale’s prime focus, which enables all of the light from the 530-ton telescope to be funneled into NESSI’s detectors.

    The team celebrated NESSI’s glimpse of its first star on Feb. 2, 2018, but between limited telescope time and fickle weather, more than a year of testing and troubleshooting would pass (never mind the time the decades-old lift got stuck as Zellem and Swain ascended to the telescope cage).

    “We track down the problems and we fix them. That’s the name of the game,” Creech-Eakman said.

    As the team continued making adjustments in 2019, Swain tapped a local high school student to design a baffle – a cylindrical device to help direct more light to NESSI’s sensors. This piece was then 3D-printed in JPL’s machine shop.

    When NESSI finally detected transiting planets on Sept. 11, 2019, the team didn’t pause to pop open champagne. Researchers are now working out the measurements of HD 189773b’s atmosphere. The team has also compiled a list of exoplanets they want to go after next.

    “It’s really rewarding, finally, to see all of our hard work is paying off and that we’re getting NESSI to work,” Zellem said. “It’s been a long journey, and it’s really gratifying to see this happen, especially in real time.”

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 2:25 pm on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Exoplanet research, , NESSI observed its first exoplanet signatures on Sept. 11 2019 proving its readiness for further studies., New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “Up All Night: NESSI Comes to Life at Palomar Observatory” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    January 23, 2020

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Landau
    Headquarters, Washington
    818-359-3241
    elandau@jpl.nasa.gov


    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope, located in San Diego County, California, US, at 1,712 m (5,617 ft)

    On Feb. 2, 2018, a handful of researchers began testing an instrument called the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, or NESSI, at the historic 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory in Southern California. NESSI is designed to look at the atmospheres of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

    New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI

    Here’s what that first night of testing was like:

    4:00 p.m. The NESSI team united for an early dinner at the dormitory called “the monastery” before driving to the telescope. Principal investigator Michelle Creech-Eakman, who grew up under the clear skies of North Dakota, has spent hundreds of nights at Palomar, so she’s familiar with the overnight-astronomy lifestyle. Working there as a Caltech postdoctoral researcher, she once accidentally scared a herd of cows in her quests to tame the mysteries of stars and planets.

    5:20 p.m. Sunset. The telescope dome, with proportions similar to Rome’s Pantheon, opened, synchronized with the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which Rob Zellem, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, jokingly played on his phone. Afterward, he climbed up to the outdoor catwalk to admire the fiery sky for a few minutes.

    5:36 p.m. The team convened in the observing room, adjacent to the dome, taking images called “sky flats” to calibrate NESSI using the light of the sky itself. This is so the team can understand how each pixel of NESSI’s detector responds to incoming light. If astronomers spot inconsistencies from pixel to pixel, they can adjust for them and subtract out “noise” when making real observations.

    Around 5:49 p.m. NESSI’s detectors were exposed to the sky at Palomar for the first time. To the untrained eye it looked like black-and-white static with lines through it on an old TV.

    Around 6:10 p.m. NESSI saw its first star, Alpha Perseus. A round of applause resounded in the observation room. Zellem’s excitement was palpable. “It’s one thing to see it in a lab; it’s another to see a real star,” he said.

    But the team was just getting started. NESSI’s many components needed to be calibrated and examined – so many that Creech-Eakman didn’t expect to get actual data from a star tonight. Zellem opened a bag of turkey jerky for the long night ahead.

    NESSI at first delivered a strange pattern of pixels on Zellem’s computer screen. The researchers examined a star called Eta Aurigae to compare its appearance to Alpha Perseus in NESSI’s field of view and tried to figure out whether the changes in brightness were due to NESSI’s detector or to the thin clouds rolling in.

    8:50 p.m. The team got an error message when they tried to get a stellar spectrum, the array of lines corresponding to different wavelengths of light a star produces. When they took the image again, it worked – but not as expected. With clouds coming in and out of view, getting a clear image would prove difficult.

    The troubleshooting continued through the next hour. “I think we’re missing something fundamental,” Creech-Eakman said.

    Just before 11 p.m. Creech-Eakman and Zellem decided on a new target: a star called Capella. It’s here they realized that the star needed to be in a different part of NESSI’s field of view. With a 10-second exposure, they were at last able to see part of a spectrum. And as they adjusted the positioning of the star with respect to NESSI, the full spectrum came into view. The team exploded in applause.

    Around 2 a.m. Because of clouds, they stopped and ceded the rest of the time to another group of astronomers. By then, the NESSI team had noted a variety of unexpected behavior from the instrument that they would need to investigate in the light of day.

    As with all new technologies, NESSI presented its researchers with challenges that had no immediate solutions, and there’s no manual to follow or help line to call. But the evening was a tremendous success in taking stock of NESSI’s components and functions. After an additional year-and-a-half of tweaking, testing and observing, NESSI observed its first exoplanet signatures on Sept. 11, 2019, proving its readiness for further studies.

    Between the picturesque mountaintop setting and the engineering marvel of the “Big Eye” Hale Telescope itself, Creech-Eakman doesn’t mind making more trips to Palomar Observatory. It’s been a special place for her since her Caltech days, when she worked there on someone else’s experiment.

    “My father had a small telescope that he had built, and I got to use that when I was little. He had made the mirrors himself – all of it,” she said. “To bring my own instrument to a place like this is – I really don’t have words.”

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 5:21 am on December 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Exoplanet research,   

    From smithsonian.com: “Three Things to Know About Europe’s New Exoplanet Space Telescope” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    December 18, 2019
    Katherine J. Wu

    ESA/CHEOPS


    ESA/CHEOPS is the first exoplanet satellite devoted specifically to learning more about the thousands of planets we have already found.

    Home to all life as we know it, Earth certainly has a special place in our universe. But it’s probably not the only habitable planet in the cosmos—and scientists are dead set on finding and understanding as many as they can.

    Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) ratcheted up the search with the launch of its new telescope, the CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS). Originally scheduled for liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana, on the morning of December 17, the probe’s departure was delayed at the last minute by officials citing a software error.

    But just before 4 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, December 18, CHEOPS finally took flight. Here’s what you need to know.

    CHEOPS is a focused study of known exoplanets

    Compared to exoplanet hunters like NASA’s TESS, and Kepler before it, a satellite currently scouring the skies for new bodies orbiting distant dwarf stars, CHEOPS’ mission is a little different. Rather than turning its lens to the unknown, this satellite plans to focus on some of the 4,000-plus exoplanets previous missions have already identified—and find out as much about them as it can.

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    “Detecting exoplanets is now the norm,” Matt Griffin, an astronomer at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, tells Jonathan O’Callaghan at Nature News. “But we need to move into a new era in which we start to characterize and measure their detailed properties.”

    To accomplish this, CHEOPS will observe nearby stars already known to host their own planets that fall between Earth and Neptune, the most mid-sized planets in our solar system, in diameter. Because these planets can’t be seen up close, the satellite will measure them indirectly, waiting for blips in the brightness of their stars—an indication that a planet has passed in front of them.

    One of the most important important measurements CHEOPS will home in on is the size of various exoplanets that astronomers have already made mass estimates for. Those two numbers combined give scientists enough information to calculate density, a critical metric that can hint at a planet’s composition. Researchers are expecting some targets to be rocky like Earth, while others might be gassy like Neptune, or perhaps rich in subsurface water.

    2
    The CHEOPS telescope being assembled and tested in the clean room at the University of Bern ( T. Beck / University of Bern)

    An unusual orbit for an unusual mission

    Launched on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket, CHEOPS will settle into orbit about 500 miles above Earth’s surface, circling the planet’s poles from north to south. To ensure maximal access to prime image-snapping conditions—that is, dark skies—the satellite will always keep its main instrument pointed toward the side of Earth experiencing night, or away from the sun.

    The $55-million spacecraft isn’t a big one, measuring just five feet on each side, a fraction of the size of the Hubble Space Telescope. But its plan is ambitious: From April 2020, onward, CHEOPS will study between 300 and 500 worlds in just three and a half years.

    CHEOPS sets the stage for future missions

    CHEOPS’ mission might sound cut and dry, but the measurements it takes could help scientists answer some lingering questions about the origin and evolution of planets around the galaxy. Knowing what lies at the heart of other small, rocky planets, for instance, could clue researchers in to the crucial ingredients that help them come together, explains Kate Isaak, a CHEOPS project scientist at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands, in an interview with O’Callaghan.

    The list of hundreds of planets CHEOPS turns its eye on will also be whittled down by the satellite’s observations, identifying the most promising candidates for future study.

    Though CHEOPS is the first “follow-up” space surveyor of exoplanets, it won’t be the last. The highly-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in the early 2020s, will be one of several crafts joining the search.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    The ESA will also deploy the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) and Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) missions in the late 2020s to further investigate new worlds, according to a statement.

    ESA PLATO spacecraft depiction

    UK-led ESA mission ARIEL -Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey

    Together, the three probes will collect data on planets that exhibit potential glimmers of habitability—ones that orbit their stars at a distance conducive to the existence of liquid water, for instance, or harbor atmospheres that resemble our own.

    “We are very much looking forward … to [following] up on some of the known exoplanets in more detail,” Isaak said in a statement in July. The launch, she said, is just “the beginning of our scientific adventure.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:25 pm on December 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Exoplanet research   

    From European Space Agency – United space in Europe:Cheops: the hunt for exoplanets” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency – United space in Europe

    United space in Europe

    A powerful space telescope, due for launch from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 17 December 2019, will give scientists a new insight into the nature of planets outside our Solar System.

    Cheops, the ‘Characterising Exoplanet Satellite’, will study known exoplanets that are orbiting bright stars.

    ESA CHEOPS depiction

    More than 4000 exoplanets have been discovered and Cheops will be targeting known planets between the size of Earth and Neptune, to find out more about their composition, internal structure and whether they might be able to support life.

    Cheops’ mission is a partnership between ESA and Switzerland with additional contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

    This film examines the nature of exoplanets, the challenge of exoplanet exploration and features the Cheops Science Operations Centre in Geneva, it includes interviews with Didier Queloz, Chair of the Cheops Science Team and 2019 Nobel Physics Laureate, University of Geneva; Willy Benz, Cheops Principal Investigator, University of Bern; and Matthias Beck, Cheops Ground Segment Manager, University of Geneva).

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

    ESA50 Logo large

     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel
%d bloggers like this: