Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Vanderbilt astronomers getting into planet-finding game

06.06.2008
Vanderbilt astronomers have constructed a special-purpose telescope that will allow them to participate in one of the hottest areas in astronomy ­ the hunt for earthlike planets circling other stars.

The instrument, called the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT), has been assembled and is being tested at Vanderbilt¹s Dyer Observatory. Shortly, it will be shipped to South Africa where it will become only the second dedicated planet-finder scanning the stars in the southern sky.

The KELT project is a collaboration between Vanderbilt and the University of Cape Town. The instrument will be set up at the South African Astronomical Observatory located about 200 miles northeast of the city of Cape Town. The South Africans have built a special enclosure to hold the telescope. They will maintain the instrument and ship the data that it produces back to Nashville. The telescope is designed for remote operation so it can be controlled by astronomers at both universities.

As its name implies, KELT is a very small telescope, about the size of some of the telescopes used by amateur astronomers. Its optics are surprisingly modest: It uses a professional quality photographic lens. But it has an extremely high quality imaging system that captures the light and converts it to digital data. It cost about $50,000 to construct.

³The telescope has been designed to detect planets passing across the face of bright stars,² says Joshua Pepper, the post-doctoral fellow who is managing the project. As a doctoral student at Ohio State University, he worked on the problem of finding planets around distant stars using large amounts of data. If a planet crosses the face of the star, it blocks a small percentage of the sunlight. KELT is designed to detect these subtle fluctuations in nearby stars similar to the sun. It is a copy of a similar instrument that Pepper helped design for OSU that has been set up in Arizona.

Unlike large telescopes that focus in on small parts of the sky in order to produce extremely high resolution images, KELT looks at large areas of the sky that contain thousands of stars. In order to see variations in brightness, it must frequently revisit each area many times every night.

As a result, the small scope will produce prodigious amounts of data (enough to fill a typical laptop¹s hard drive in a few days). In order to pick out the variations caused by planets from other effects, such as dimming caused by passing clouds or variations in a star¹s overall brightness, the astronomers will process the data with the supercomputer in Vanderbilt¹s Advanced Computing Center for Research & Education.

According to Associate Professor of Astronomy Keivan Stassun, KELT is an example of a new program called the Vanderbilt Initiative in Data-Intensive Astrophysics (VIDA) [http://www.vanderbilt.edu/astro/vida].

³Astronomy is now entering a period when the way astronomers do their work is fundamentally changing,² Stassun says. ³The traditional model has been that of an individual astronomer, or a small team of astronomers, going to a telescope and pointing it at a star or a galaxy, collecting data, analyzing the data and publishing the results. But, with the advent of high-performance computers, robotic telescopes and digital detectors that are able to see large swaths of the sky at once, the quantities of data that we can collect are rapidly increasing so we need new ways of analyzing them in real time.² The purpose of VIDA, which is funded by the Office of the Provost, is to give Vanderbilt astronomers the resources they need to become leaders in this new way of conducting astronomical research.

The agreement to place the new telescope in South Africa was the result of a second campus initiative coming from the Vanderbilt International Office. ³We are in the process of identifying peer institutions in all parts of the world with whom we can collaborate on research projects in a variety of disciplines,² explains Joel Harrington, assistant provost for international affairs.

The Cape Town agreement is one of four ³international core partnerships² that Vanderbilt has established. The other three are with the University of Melbourne in Australia, The University in São Paulo in Brazil and Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

In addition to collaborating on research projects, the partnerships involve the exchange of students. Two Nashville students have gone to Cape Town to study and two Cape Town students will come to Nashville. A number of the Nashville exchange students will be drawn from the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master¹s-to-PhD Program, a joint program with Fisk University, Nashville¹s historically black university.

³An important goal of the new research partnershipŠis building and enhancing the scientific capacity among black South Africans and African Americans,² according to a media statement issued by the University of Cape Town.

Vanderbilt University is a private research university of approximately 6,500 undergraduates and 5,300 graduate and professional students. Founded in 1873, the University comprises 10 schools, a public policy institute, a distinguished medical center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center.

Vanderbilt, ranked as one of the nation¹s top universities, offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education and human development, and a full range of graduate and professional degrees.

David F. Salisbury | Vanderbilt University
Further information:
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA's fermi finds possible dark matter ties in andromeda galaxy
22.02.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Tune your radio: galaxies sing while forming stars
21.02.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Positrons as a new tool for lithium ion battery research: Holes in the electrode

22.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New insights into the information processing of motor neurons

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Healthy Hiking in Smart Socks

22.02.2017 | Innovative Products

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>