HI, United States
HI, United States

Time filter

Source Type

News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: spaceref.com

Astronomers have discovered a cosmic one-two punch unlike any ever seen before. Two of the most powerful phenomena in the Universe, a supermassive black hole, and the collision of giant galaxy clusters, have combined to create a stupendous cosmic particle accelerator. By combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India, the NSF's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, and other telescopes, researchers have found out what happens when matter ejected by a giant black hole is swept up in the merger of two enormous galaxy clusters. "We have seen each of these spectacular phenomena separately in many places," said Reinout van Weeren of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who led the study that appears in the inaugural issue of the journal Nature Astronomy. "This is the first time, however, that we seen them clearly linked together in the same system." This cosmic double whammy is found in a pair of colliding galaxy clusters called Abell 3411 and Abell 3412 located about two billion light years from Earth. The two clusters are both very massive, each weighing about a quadrillion -- or a million billion -- times the mass of the Sun. The comet-shaped appearance of the X-rays detected by Chandra is produced by hot gas from one cluster plowing through the hot gas of the other cluster. Optical data from the Keck Observatory and Japan's Subaru telescope, both on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, detected the galaxies in each cluster. First, at least one spinning, supermassive black hole in one of the galaxy clusters produced a rotating, tightly-wound magnetic funnel. The powerful electromagnetic fields associated with this structure have accelerated some of the inflowing gas away from the vicinity of the black hole in the form of an energetic, high-speed jet. Then, these accelerated particles in the jet were accelerated again when they encountered colossal shock waves -- cosmic versions of sonic booms generated by supersonic aircraft -- produced by the collision of the massive gas clouds associated with the galaxy clusters. "It's almost like launching a rocket into low-Earth orbit and then getting shot out of the Solar System by a second rocket blast," said co-author Felipe Andrade-Santos, also of the CfA. "These particles are among the most energetic particles observed in the Universe, thanks to the double injection of energy." This discovery solves a long-standing mystery in galaxy cluster research about the origin of beautiful swirls of radio emission stretching for millions of light years, detected in Abell 3411 and Abell 3412 with the GMRT. The team determined that as the shock waves travel across the cluster for hundreds of millions of years, the doubly accelerated particles produce giant swirls of radio emission. "This result shows that a remarkable combination of powerful events generate these particle acceleration factories, which are the largest and most powerful in the Universe," said co-author William Dawson of Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, Calif. "It is a bit poetic that it took a combination of the world's biggest observatories to understand this." These results were presented at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Grapevine, TX. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations. A labeled image, a podcast, and a video about the findings are available at: http://chandra.si.edu For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/chandra Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Astronomers have found 60 new planets, including a super-Earth, orbiting stars near the solar system. For two decades, scientists observed 1,600 stars using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and discovered 60 new planets outside of the solar system. Through the project called the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which started in 1996 and aims to search for exoplanets, scientists were also able to find evidence of 54 planets, bringing the total number of potential new worlds to 114. Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire, and colleagues were able to detect the presence of the planets using a technique called radial velocity, which measures the tiny changes in the color and location of target stars. The method, which is one of the most successful technique for finding and confirming planets, takes advantage of the fact that planets are not just influenced by the gravity of the star that it orbits but the gravity of the planet itself also affects the star. Scientists used tools to detect the tiny wobble that the planet's gravity induces on the star. Using these signals, researchers were able to detect the presence of new extraterrestrial worlds. "Of these signals, 225 have already been published as planet claims, 60 are classified as significant unpublished planet candidates that await photometric follow-up to rule out activity-related causes, and 54 are also unpublished, but are classified as "significant" signals that require confirmation by additional data before rising to classification as planet candidates." the researchers reported. One of these newly discovered exoplanets is the super Earth called GJ 411b. Scientists described the planet as a hot super-Earth with rocky surface orbits the star GJ 411. The star, also known as Lalande 21185, is the fourth nearest star to the sun and is about 40 percent of the solar mass. The planet has a short orbital period of under 10 days and its discovery continues a trend astronomers have observed in the overall population of exoplanets discovered so far, which is that the smallest planets are likely to be found around the smallest stars. The discovery challenges conventional wisdom about planets. Scientists historically assumed that only a few stars had planets but there appears to be a nearly infinite number of planets beyond the solar system based on recent surveys of the sky. Tuomi said that when they look at the nearest stars, all of them seems to have planets orbiting them, something that astronomers were not convinced about a few years ago. He said that the newly found worlds also shed light on the evolution of planetary systems. "Over the recent years it has been established as a scientific fact that there are more planets in the Universe than there are stars. This means that virtually every star has a planet, or several of them, orbiting it," Tuomi said. "Our discovery of dozens of new nearby planets highlights this fact. But it also does more. We are now moving on from simply discovering these worlds." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

A trip past the sun may have selectively altered the production of one form of water in a comet - an effect not seen by astronomers before, a new NASA study suggests. Astronomers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015. Through NASA's partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team observed the comet at infrared wavelengths a few days after Lovejoy passed its perihelion - or closest point to the sun. The team focused on Lovejoy's water, simultaneously measuring the release of H2O along with production of a heavier form of water, HDO. Water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. A hydrogen atom has one proton, but when it also includes a neutron, that heavier hydrogen isotope is called deuterium, or the "D" in HDO. From these measurements, the researchers calculated the D-to-H ratio - a chemical fingerprint that provides clues about exactly where comets (or asteroids) formed within the cloud of material that surrounded the young sun in the early days of the solar system. Researchers also use the D-to-H value to try to understand how much of Earth's water may have come from comets versus asteroids. The scientists compared their findings from the Keck observations with another team's observations made before the comet reached perihelion, using both space- and ground-based telescopes, and found an unexpected difference: After perihelion, the output of HDO was two to three times higher, while the output of H2O remained essentially constant. This meant that the D-to-H ratio was two to three times higher than the values reported earlier. "The change we saw with this comet is surprising, and highlights the need for repeated measurements of D-to-H in comets at different positions in their orbits to understand all the implications," said Lucas Paganini, a researcher with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and lead author of the study, available online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Changes in the water production are expected as comets approach the sun, but previous understanding suggested that the release of these different forms of water normally rise or fall more-or-less together, maintaining a consistent D-to-H value. The new findings suggest this may not be the case. "If the D-to-H value changes with time, it would be misleading to assume that comets contributed only a small fraction of Earth's water compared to asteroids," Paganini said, "especially, if these are based on a single measurement of the D-to-H value in cometary water." The production of HDO in comets has historically been difficult to measure, because HDO is a much less abundant form of water. Lovejoy, for example, released on the order of 1,500 times more H2O than HDO. Lovejoy's brightness made it possible to measure HDO when the comet passed near Earth, and the improved detectors that are being installed in some ground-based telescopes will permit similar measurements in fainter comets in the future. The apparent change in Lovejoy's D-to-H may be caused by the higher levels of energetic processes - such as radiation near the sun - that might have altered the characteristics of water in surface layers of the comet. In this case, a different D-to-H value might indicate that the comet has "aged" into a different stage of its lifecycle. Alternatively, prior results might have ignored possible chemical alteration occurring in the comet's tenuous atmosphere. "Comets can be quite active and sometimes quite dynamic, especially when they are in the inner solar system, closer to the sun," said Michael Mumma, director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and a co-author of the study. "The infrared technique provides a snapshot of the comet's output by measuring the production of H2O and HDO simultaneously. This is especially important because it eliminates many sources of systematic uncertainty."


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A trip past the sun may have selectively altered the production of one form of water in a comet - an effect not seen by astronomers before, a new NASA study suggests. Astronomers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015. Through NASA's partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team observed the comet at infrared wavelengths a few days after Lovejoy passed its perihelion - or closest point to the sun. The team focused on Lovejoy's water, simultaneously measuring the release of H2O along with production of a heavier form of water, HDO. Water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. A hydrogen atom has one proton, but when it also includes a neutron, that heavier hydrogen isotope is called deuterium, or the "D" in HDO. From these measurements, the researchers calculated the D-to-H ratio - a chemical fingerprint that provides clues about exactly where comets (or asteroids) formed within the cloud of material that surrounded the young sun in the early days of the solar system. Researchers also use the D-to-H value to try to understand how much of Earth's water may have come from comets versus asteroids. The scientists compared their findings from the Keck observations with another team's observations made before the comet reached perihelion, using both space- and ground-based telescopes, and found an unexpected difference: After perihelion, the output of HDO was two to three times higher, while the output of H2O remained essentially constant. This meant that the D-to-H ratio was two to three times higher than the values reported earlier. "The change we saw with this comet is surprising, and highlights the need for repeated measurements of D-to-H in comets at different positions in their orbits to understand all the implications," said Lucas Paganini, a researcher with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and lead author of the study, available online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Changes in the water production are expected as comets approach the sun, but previous understanding suggested that the release of these different forms of water normally rise or fall more-or-less together, maintaining a consistent D-to-H value. The new findings suggest this may not be the case. "If the D-to-H value changes with time, it would be misleading to assume that comets contributed only a small fraction of Earth's water compared to asteroids," Paganini said, "especially, if these are based on a single measurement of the D-to-H value in cometary water." The production of HDO in comets has historically been difficult to measure, because HDO is a much less abundant form of water. Lovejoy, for example, released on the order of 1,500 times more H2O than HDO. Lovejoy's brightness made it possible to measure HDO when the comet passed near Earth, and the improved detectors that are being installed in some ground-based telescopes will permit similar measurements in fainter comets in the future. The apparent change in Lovejoy's D-to-H may be caused by the higher levels of energetic processes - such as radiation near the sun - that might have altered the characteristics of water in surface layers of the comet. In this case, a different D-to-H value might indicate that the comet has "aged" into a different stage of its lifecycle. Alternatively, prior results might have ignored possible chemical alteration occurring in the comet's tenuous atmosphere. "Comets can be quite active and sometimes quite dynamic, especially when they are in the inner solar system, closer to the sun," said Michael Mumma, director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and a co-author of the study. "The infrared technique provides a snapshot of the comet's output by measuring the production of H2O and HDO simultaneously. This is especially important because it eliminates many sources of systematic uncertainty."


News Article | February 13, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

The search for planets beyond our solar system is about to gain some new recruits. Today, a team that includes MIT and is led by the Carnegie Institution for Science has released the largest collection of observations made with a technique called radial velocity, to be used for hunting exoplanets. The huge dataset, taken over two decades by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, is now available to the public, along with an open-source software package to process the data and an online tutorial. By making the data public and user-friendly, the scientists hope to draw fresh eyes to the observations, which encompass almost 61,000 measurements of more than 1,600 nearby stars. “This is an amazing catalog, and we realized there just aren’t enough of us on the team to be doing as much science as could come out of this dataset,” says Jennifer Burt, a Torres Postdoctoral Fellow in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “We’re trying to shift toward a more community-oriented idea of how we should do science, so that others can access the data and see something interesting.” Burt and her colleagues have outlined some details of the newly available dataset in a paper to appear in The Astrophysical Journal. After taking a look through the data themselves, the researchers have detected over 100 potential exoplanets, including one orbiting GJ 411, the fourth-closest star to our solar system. “There seems to be no shortage of exoplanets,” Burt says. “There are a ton of them out there, and there is ton of science to be done.” The newly available observations were taken by the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES), an instrument mounted on the Keck Observatory’s 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. HIRES is designed to split a star’s incoming light into a rainbow of color components. Scientists can then measure the precise intensity of thousands of color channels, or wavelengths, to determine characteristics of the starlight. Early on, scientists found they could use HIRES’ output to estimate a star’s radial velocity — the very tiny movements a star makes either as a result of its own internal processes or in response to some other, external force. In particular, scientists have found that when a star moves toward and away from Earth in a regular pattern, it can signal the presence of an exoplanet orbiting the star. The planet’s gravity tugs on the star, changing the star’s velocity as the planet moves through its orbit. “[HIRES] wasn’t specifically optimized to look for exoplanets,” Burt says. “It was designed to look at faint galaxies and quasars. However, even before HIRES was installed, our team worked out a technique for making HIRES an effective exoplanet hunter.” For two decades, these scientists have pointed HIRES at more than 1,600 “neighborhood” stars, all within a relatively close 100 parsecs, or 325 light years, from Earth. The instrument has recorded almost 61,000 observations, each lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on how precise the measurements needed to be. With all these data compiled, any given star in the dataset can have several days’, years’, ore even more than a decade’s worth of observations. “We recently discovered a six-planet system orbiting a star, which is a big number,” Burt says. “We don’t often detect systems with more than three to four planets, but we could successfully map out all six in this system because we had over 18 years of data on the host star.” More eyes on the skies Within the newly available dataset, the team has highlighted over 100 stars that are likely to host exoplanets but require closer inspection, either with additional measurements or further analysis of the existing data. The researchers have, however, confirmed the presence of an exoplanet around GJ 411, which is the fourth-closest star to our solar system and has a mass that is roughly 40 percent that of our sun. The planet has an extremely tight orbit, circling the star in less than 10 days. Burt says that there is a good chance that others, looking through the dataset and combining it with their own observations, may find similarly intriguing candidates. “We’ve gone from the early days of thinking maybe there are five or 10 other planets out there, to realizing almost every star next to us might have a planet,” Burt says. HIRES will continue to record observations of nearby stars in the coming years, and the team plans to periodically update the public dataset with those observations. “This dataset will slowly grow, and you’ll be able to go on and search for whatever star you’re interested in and download all the data we’ve ever taken on it. The dataset includes the date, the velocity we measured, the error on that velocity, and measurements of the star’s activity during that observation,” Burt says. “Nowadays, with access to public analysis software like Systemic, it’s easy to load the data in and start playing with it.” Then, Burt says, the hunt for exoplanets can really take off. “I think this opens up possibilities for anyone who wants to do this kind of work, whether you’re an academic or someone in the general public who’s excited about exoplanets,” Burt says. “Because really, who doesn’t want to discover a planet?” This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA scientists revealed on Wednesday, Feb. 22, the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets that orbit a nearby dwarf star in tight, fast ellipses. The location and characteristics of the exoplanets draw astronomers closer to finding worlds that can support life. Finding exoplanets is not new. Earlier this month, for instance, scientists who were observing 1,600 stars using the W.M. Keck Observatory reported the discovery of 60 new planets, including one super-Earth, outside of the solar system. The discovery of the seven new extraterrestrial worlds outside of the solar system, however, has caused much excitement to the scientific community NASA even called for a press conference. The discovery is rare because the newly found planets are not just similar in size to Earth. Just like our home planet, the newly discovered planets are also temperate, which means they likely have water on their surface and may have potentials to support life. Another thing about some of the newly discovered exoplanets that is of particular interest to astronomers is where they orbit relative to their host, the dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. Astronomers have long been interested in the so-called Goldilocks zone, the area around a star where the surface temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold to make possible for liquid water that can support life to exist. Three of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system are in this habitable zone. Researchers said that the star system now has the record for most rocky planets lying in the habitable zone. Researchers said that the potential habitability and location of the planets make TRAPPIST-1 an inviting target to search for extraterrestrial life. The newly found world could well be included in the lists of places where scientists look for signs of life. To date, scientists are already launching missions to find signs of life on planet Mars, Jupiter moon Europa, and Saturn moon Enceladus. "This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life," said Thomas Zurbuchen, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Answering the question 'are we alone' is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal." To find possible signatures of life such as methane and oxygen in this star system, astronomers may take advantage of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is set for launch late next year. The $8.8 billion telescope may shed more light on the atmospheres of the TRAPPIST-1 planets by the early 2020s. Finding both methane and oxygen in the atmosphere could indicate the presence of life. The two gases destroy each other, explained Shawn Domagal-Goldman, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "If they're both there together, you know someone is bringing the methane in an atmosphere rich in oxygen, so that's what you're looking for," Domagal-Goldman said. "The most likely explanation is, it's life that's bringing the methane and oxygen to the party." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 19, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Images capturing the tantrums of a baby supernova, which capture was not possible before, help shed light on how giant stellar explosions occur. Space scientists for years relied on these supernova explosions in measuring an ever expanding universe. How these stars blow up, however, was not completely understood at the time when even to catch a supernova one week after is explosion was considered early. "This is not the case anymore," Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in Israel, told Space.com. The supernova, known as SN 2013fs, was discovered on Oct. 6, 2013, with telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA's Swift satellite. It was also detected at the Palomar Observatory in California using the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory. Discovered three hours after its explosion, the cosmic baby belongs to the most common variety — Type II supernova. Supernova of this type collapses into a very dense nugget when it runs out of fuel and bounces back spewing dense materials outward. The supernova, believed to be the red supergiant before its demise, is located 160 million light-years away. It was in a spiral galaxy called NGC 7610, the closest to the Milky Way. There were only three supernova events in the Milky Way were observed for the thousands of years. The last observed supernova was Kepler's Supernova in1604 when it was seen brighter than all the stars in the sky. Its distance from Earth was not known but estimates had it at 20,000 light years. Astronomers had seen glimpses of supernovas the past years but not this close. How and why these dying stars can detonate with such violence were not fully understood. The captured images of the cosmic baby provided the opportunity for scientists to capture "the earliest spectra ever taken of supernova explosion". Scientists use the light spectrum to have a look at the wavelengths of the light. Stellar spectra can reveal the composition of a star because chemical elements can absorb particular wavelength. From the light spectra of SN 2013fs, it was found out that a disk, which size is about a thousandth part of the sun, was spewed by the star before its demise. These images tell us that the core of a star, the parent of the supernova, may experience upheavals as it nears its demise creating strong winds from the depth all the way beyond its surface. "It's as if the star 'knows' its life is ending soon, and puffing material at an enhanced rate during its final breaths," Yaron said. This situation is akin to a volcano bubbling before an eruption, he explained. With the help of automated celestial surveys, such as the iPTF at Palomar, more early detections are expected that can help explain how and why such massive violence during the last gasps of a dying star occur. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 12, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Scientists using NASA's Hubble Telescope have observed comet-like debris surrounding a white dwarf. This is the very first time that scientists have observed such an event, even more so with a comet that's rich in elements that are essential for life. The white dwarf WD 1425+540 is roughly 170 light-years away from earth and can be seen in the constellation Bootes, also known as The Herdsman. It was first discovered in 1974 as a part of a wide binary system. Scientists were using the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the white dwarf's atmosphere when they observed the comet-like object falling into the star, being damaged as it did. Upon examining the surface of the comet, they found that it has a structure very similar to Halley's comet except that it is 100,000 times larger and its surface has significantly more water in it. What's more, spectral analysis showed that it is rich in life-building elements such as carbon, oxygen, sulphur and nitrogen. These findings could be evidence of a belt of comet-like bodies surrounding the white dwarf, not unlike our own solar system's Kuiper belt. While observations of debris surrounding white dwarfs are not new, as up to 50 percent of them have been observed to be polluted with scattered remains of passing celestial bodies, this is the first time that scientists observe icy, comet-like debris around the once giant star. This is also the first object observed outside our solar system that has a composition similar to Halley's comet. The finding is relevant to scientists especially because of the comet's high nitrogen content. In our own solar system, comets and other celestial bodies with these elements continue to float around the Kuiper belt as a sort of remnant from when the solar system was formed. In fact some even believe that it is through these comets that life on earth came to be. Finding these elements in comet debris surrounding a white dwarf 170 light-years away could be evidence that these icy bodies are also present in other planetary systems. "Nitrogen is a very important element for life as we know it. This particular object is quite rich in nitrogen, more so than any object observed in our solar system," says Siyi Xu of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, lead of the very team that made the discovery. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

An international team of astronomers has released a massive dataset detailing the characteristics of over 1,600 "neighborhood" stars, in an effort to involve the public in the ongoing effort to discover nearby exoplanets. The catalog has already led to the detection of over 100 potential exoplanets, alongside the confirmed discovery of an alien world in orbit around the fourth closest star to our Sun. The observations of 1,624 stars, all of which sit within 100 parsecs (325 light years) of Earth, were made using the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) instrument mounted on the W.M. Keck Observatory's 10-m (33-ft) telescope located atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. HIRES is a cutting-edge spectrometer, capable of splitting a star's light into thousands of color channels. By measuring the intensity of these channels, or wavelengths, scientists can gain significant insights regarding, for example, a stellar body's composition and movement patterns. The new release is comprised of 60,949 individual observations, with exposures ranging from 30 seconds to 20 minutes in duration. Not all of the stars were subjected to the same level of scrutiny by HIRES, meaning that some stellar bodies will have only several days' worth of data, whereas others have decades. "[HIRES] wasn't specifically optimized to look for exoplanets," Burt says. "It was designed to look at faint galaxies and quasars. However, even before HIRES was installed, our team worked out a technique for making HIRES an effective exoplanet hunter." Scientists have discovered that by looking at HIRES' intricate breakdown of a star's light, they could measure a star's radial velocity and look for subtle variations in the movement of the star that could result from the gravitational influence of an orbiting exoplanet. An initial analysis carried out by the team is already yielding a promising number of exoplanets. Already, the team has discovered roughly 100 potential exoplanets, six of which are believed to exist around a single star. Thanks to the data collected by HIRES, the researchers have also been able to confirm the presence of an exoplanet in orbit around the fourth-closest star to our Sun, GJ 411. The exoplanet is believed to orbit very close to its parent star, which boasts a mass of 40 percent of our Sun. The proximity means that the alien world completes a lap of GJ 411 once every 10 days. Periodically, the team will supplement the dataset with further observations made by HIRES. It is hoped that astronomers around the world will use the HIRES resource to advance their own observations, or as a leaping off point for new imaging campaigns. However, the data is not meant for the sole use of professionals. "One of our key goals in this paper is to democratize the search for planets," explained team member Greg Laughlin of Yale. "Anyone can download the velocities published on our website and use the open source Systemic software package and try fitting planets from the data." A tutorial on how to use Systemic will be posted soon, while a link to the dataset can already be found online.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

If you have ambitions of discovering the next important exoplanet, now is your chance. Last Monday, Feb. 13, a team that involves researchers from MIT and the Carnegie Institution for Science released more than 61,000 astronomical observations to the public, a huge dataset that includes over 1,600 nearby stars. Paving the way for new recruits in the search for planets beyond the solar system, the newly available dataset was taken for over two decades by Hawaii’s W.M. Keck Observatory and comes with an open-source software package for data processing and online tutorial. “[W]e realized there just aren't enough of us on the team to be doing as much science as could come out of this dataset," said MIT postdoctoral fellow Jennifer Burt in a statement, emphasizing a shift toward community-oriented strategies such as crowdsourcing in their scientific pursuits. The international team recently announced the discovery of more than a hundred new exoplanet candidates through a method called radial velocity. This technique, deemed one of the most successful in finding and confirming planetary presence, exploits the fact that a planet’s gravity also affects the star it is orbiting. There’s “a ton of science to be done,” Burt proclaimed. “One of our key goals in this paper is to democratize the search for planets," said team member Greg Laughlin from Yale, explaining that anyone can download the velocities on the website and use their open-source software to try fitting planets from the data. The exoplanet search, it seems, is no longer exclusive to missions like NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions. The Kepler space telescope, for instance, seeks them out through looking for stars that regularly dim slightly, with the dimming believed to be caused by the exoplanet blocking some of the starlight when it passes in front. The observations were made using the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer, an instrument mounted atop the Keck Observatory’s 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea. It can split the incoming light of a star into a rainbow of colors, allowing scientists to measure the precise intensity of wavelengths to probe the nature and qualities of the starlight. HIRES can assist in estimating the radial velocity of a star, which is composed of very small star movements either due to its own processes or as a response to an external factor. When a star, for instance, regularly moves toward and away from Earth, then it can herald the presence of an exoplanet that orbits the star. The star is tugged by the planet’s gravity, thus its velocity changes. HIRES has spotted over 1,600 so-called neighborhood stars, each within 325 light-years from our planet and with observations ranging from 30 seconds to 20 minutes based on the level of precision needed in measuring. Now with more eyes on the skies using the publicly available database, more than 100 stars likely to host exoplanets can be more closely inspected through added measurements or further data analysis. The team, however, confirmed the presence of an exoplanet orbiting GJ 411, the fourth closest to the solar system and has a star mass that’s about 40 percent of our sun. Now the hope is pinned on observers finding similar candidates. Details of the dataset and related findings are discussed in the Astrophysical Journal. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Loading Keck Observatory collaborators
Loading Keck Observatory collaborators