Connect with us
https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/pagead/imgad?id=CICAgKDriYHe3QEQARgBMgh47LykQhqW-w

Space

ESPRESSO Planet Hunter Ready to Drink in the Universe for Alien Worlds

Space.com

Published

on

Spectral data from the “first light” of the ESPRESSO instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The light from a star has been dispersed into its component colors. This view has been colorized to indicate how the wavelengths change across the image, but these are not exactly the colors that would be seen visually.

A powerful new planet hunter has begun searching the heavens for rocky, potentially habitable worlds.

The ESPRESSO instrument, which is installed on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in northern Chile, made its first observations last month, project team members announced today (Dec. 6).

ESPRESSO is designed to find alien planets via the “radial velocity” method — that is, by detecting the tiny wobbles in a star’s movement caused by the gravitational tug of orbiting planets. The instrument is the next-generation version of the prolific HARPS spectrograph, which has discovered more than 100 exoplanets to date. [7 Ways to Discover Alien Planets]

Only NASA’s famous Kepler space telescope, which looks for the tiny brightness dips caused when planets cross their star’s face, has found more alien worlds than HARPS. (The gap between the two is pretty big, however: Kepler’s tally currently stands at 2,515 planets across its two missions, along with 2,500 or so additional “candidates” awaiting confirmation by follow-up studies or observations.)

“ESPRESSO isn’t just the evolution of our previous instruments like HARPS, but it will be transformational, with its higher resolution and higher precision,” project lead scientist Francesco Pepe, of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a statement

Just how precise will ESPRESSO (whose name is short for Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) actually be? Project team members are aiming for a velocity-measurement precision of just a few centimeters (1 inch or so) per second, compared with the 1 meter (3.3. feet) per second capability of HARPS. ESPRESSO should therefore be able to spot some of the smallest planets ever found, ESO representatives said.

Part of the improvement is due to technology advances, and part owes to ESPRESSO’s placement on a much larger telescope, team members said. 

Image showing the room where the light beams coming from the four Very Large Telescope “unit telescopes” are brought together and fed into fibers, which in turn deliver the light to the ESPRESSO spectrograph itself in another room. One of the points where the light enters the room appears at the back of this picture.

Credit: P. Horálek/ESO

HARPS sits on an 11.8-foot (3.6 m) scope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, which is also in Chile. The VLT consists of four 26.9-foot-wide (8.2 m) “unit telescopes” — and ESPRESSO will be linked to all of them, achieving the light-collecting equivalent of a single 52.5-foot-wide (16 m) scope, ESO representatives said.

“This success is the result of the work of many people over 10 years,” Pepe said. “ESPRESSO will be unsurpassed for at least a decade. Now I am just impatient to find our first rocky planet!” 

Astronomers have confirmed more than 800 planets beyond our own solar system, and the discoveries keep rolling in. How much do you know about these exotic worlds?

Artist's conception of alien planets Kepler-36b and c

0 of 10 questions complete

Alien Planet Quiz: Are You an Exoplanet Expert?

Astronomers have confirmed more than 800 planets beyond our own solar system, and the discoveries keep rolling in. How much do you know about these exotic worlds?

Start Quiz
Artist's conception of alien planets Kepler-36b and c

0 of questions complete

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Space.com is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. We transport our visitors across the solar system and beyond through accessible, comprehensive coverage of the latest news and discoveries. For us, exploring space is as much about the journey as it is the destination. So from skywatching guides and stunning photos of the night sky to rocket launches and breaking news of robotic probes visiting other planets, at Space.com you’ll find something amazing every day.

Advertisement

Space

'Stargate Origins' Brings Classic Sci-Fi Back Tonight

Space.com

Published

on

Continue Reading

Space

Mars Meteorite Will Return to the Red Planet with NASA Rover

Space.com

Published

on

Rohit Bhartia of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission holds a slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars. This slice will likely be used here on Earth for testing a laser instrument for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover; a separate slice will go to Mars on the rover.

A chunk of rock that was once part of Mars, but landed on Earth as a meteorite, will return to the Red Planet aboard a NASA rover set to launch in 2020

The meteorite, known as Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) was found in Oman in 1999, but geologists determined that it likely originated on Mars, according to a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scientists think collisions between Mars and other large bodies in the solar system’s early days sent chunks of the Red Planet into space, where they might wander for eons before falling onto Earth’s surface.  

Now, NASA scientists are using the meteorite to calibrate an instrument that will fly on the Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to drop down on the Red Planet’s surface and collect rock samples that could one day be returned to Earth. One of the rover’s main goals is to evaluate the potential habitability of ancient and present-day Mars. [How NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Will Work (Infographic)]

The meteorite is being used to calibrate an instrument called the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals), which will use techniques often used in forensic science to identify chemicals in the Martian rock samples, in features as thin as a human hair.

A close-up of a meteorite that likely came from Mars.

A close-up of a meteorite that likely came from Mars.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The researchers will study the meteorite on Earth, where they are able to make sure their instruments are producing a correct analysis of the rock, and understand what features of the rock are perceptible to their instruments. When the rover settles onto Mars, researchers can once again use the rock to make sure their instruments are working as they should be, before pointing them at features of the Martian surface. 

“We’re studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” said Luther Beegle, principal investigator for SHERLOC, in the statement. “By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface.”

There are only about 200 confirmed Martian meteorites that have been found on Earth, according to the statement. The SaU008 meteorite comes from London’s Natural History Museum, which lends out hundreds of meteorites (most of them not from Mars) every year for scientific studies. The SHERLOC team needed a Martian meteorite that was robust enough to endure the journey to Mars without flaking or crumbling. (Launch from Earth and entry into the Martian atmosphere are both very strenuous events for everything on board.) The rock also “needed to possess certain chemical features to test SHERLOC’s sensitivity. These had to be reasonably easy to detect repeatedly for the calibration target to be useful,” according to the statement.  

A slice of a Martian meteorite undergoes oxygen cleaning to remove organics. This slice will remain on Earth to be used for testing and calibrating instruments.

A slice of a Martian meteorite undergoes oxygen cleaning to remove organics. This slice will remain on Earth to be used for testing and calibrating instruments.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Usually, instruments like SHERLOC are calibrated with a variety of materials including rock, metal and glass. And Mars meteorites have been used for instrument calibration in the past. In fact, another instrument aboard the Mars 2020 rover, called SuperCam, will be adding a Mars meteorite to NASA’s calibration target, according to the statement. And while this would be the first Mars meteorite to return to the surface of the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, which orbits the Red Planet, carries a chunk of a Martian meteorite.

SHERLOC will carry other materials from Earth in addition to Su008, including materials that could be used to make a spacesuit for use on Mars. Observations of how the material withstands the radiation, atmosphere and temperature variations on Mars will provide valuable information for possible crewed trips to the Red Planet.  

“The SHERLOC instrument is a valuable opportunity to prepare for human spaceflight as well as to perform fundamental scientific investigations of the Martian surface,” Marc Fries, a SHERLOC co-investigator and curator of extraterrestrial materials at Johnson Space Center, said in the statement. “It gives us a convenient way to test material that will keep future astronauts safe when they get to Mars.”

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

Continue Reading

Space

Kepler Space Telescope Discovers 95 More Alien Planets

Space.com

Published

on

Planets around other stars are the rule rather than the exception, and there are likely hundreds of billions of exoplanets in the Milky Way alone. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found more than 2,400 alien worlds, including a new haul of 95 planets announced on Feb. 15, 2018.

The exoplanet discoveries by NASA’s Kepler space telescope keep rolling in.

Astronomers poring through data gathered during Kepler’s current extended mission, known as K2, have spotted 95 more alien planets, a new study reports. 

That brings the K2 tally to 292, and the total haul over Kepler’s entire operational life to nearly 2,440 — about two-thirds of all the alien worlds ever discovered. And more than 2,000 additional Kepler candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations or analysis. [7 Greatest Exoplanet Discoveries by NASA’s Kepler (So Far)]

Kepler launched in March 2009, on a mission to help scientists determine just how common rocky, potentially habitable worlds such as Earth are throughout the Milky Way. For four years, the spacecraft stared continuously at about 150,000 stars, looking for tiny dips in their brightness caused by the passage of planets across their faces.

This work was highly productive, as noted above. But in May 2013, the second of Kepler’s four orientation-maintaining “reaction wheels” failed, and the spacecraft lost its superprecise pointing ability, bringing the original mission to a close.

But mission managers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, and the spacecraft soon embarked on its K2 mission, which involves exoplanet hunting on a more limited basis, as well as observing comets and asteroids in our own solar system, supernovas and a range of other objects and phenomena.

For the new study, researchers analyzed K2 data going all the way back to 2014, zeroing in on 275 “candidate” signals.

“We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft,” study lead author Andrew Mayo, a Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Denmark’s National Space Institute, said in a statement. “But we also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.”

Indeed, 149 of the signals turned out to be caused by bona fide exoplanets, 95 of which are new discoveries. And one of the new ones is a record setter.

“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet,” Mayo said. “Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories.”

The new study was published today (Feb. 15) in The Astronomical Journal.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Continue Reading

Space

Russian Cargo Ship Delivers 3 Tons of Supplies to Space Station

Space.com

Published

on

Continue Reading

Tags

Trending