Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Astronomers poised to apply novel way to look for comets beyond Neptune

08.01.2003


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory astronomers are major partners in a scientific collaboration that will conduct an extremely novel search for small, comet-like bodies in the outer solar system using four half-meter telescopes. The work was described today at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society.


Rather than look for the light reflected directly by these objects (as is customary astronomy practice), this project will search for those very rare moments when one of these objects passes between the telescopes and a nearby background star. This brief "eclipse" lasts less than a second, but will allow the scientists to study objects that are much too faint to be seen in reflected sunlight, even with the largest telescopes.

This work was presented today by Sun-Kung King, on behalf of the TAOS Project (TAOS: Taiwanese-American Occultation Survey) and by Matthew Lehner of the University of Pennsylvania. King is an astronomer from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have played a key role in the design and building of the telescopes and are members of TAOS.

The region probed by TAOS is known as the Kuiper Belt, and sometimes as the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt, after the two scientists who independently proposed its existence more than 50 years ago. There were only two objects (Pluto and its moon Charon) known in this region until the 1990s, when a flood of exciting discoveries of new bodies was started by David Jewitt (at the University of Hawaii) and Jane Luu (then at UC Berkeley). Despite hundreds of discoveries later, much more remains unknown.



All theories of this region predict that there are many more small objects than large objects. Conventional telescope searches principally find objects that are larger in diameter than about 100 kilometers. An ambitious program with the Hubble Space Telescope may find objects as small as 10 kilometers in size. The scientists in TAOS believe they will be able to extend this lower limit to about 3 kilometers. It is believed there are billions of objects this small in the outer solar system.

"The TAOS survey will provide data on remnants of our early solar system and early planet formation," said Kem Cook, a TAOS astronomer who works at Livermore’s Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics. "It will provide us insight into how the solar system evolved. We’ll be looking at the smallest objects than anyone else has seen."

Current observations and theories can say very little about regions many times farther from the sun than Neptune. TAOS is unique among astronomical surveys in its ability to probe these great distances. TAOS is able to do this because it does not rely on reflected sunlight. These small objects are thought to be directly related to the new comets that wander into the planetary system. Composed of dust and ice, they begin to evaporate when they come closer to the sun, producing the spectacular and beautiful tails that astronomers believe are the oldest objects in the solar system, which makes them especially interesting.

"The small objects we will detect are much too faint to be seen directly, even by the largest telescopes in the world," King said. "We will find them silhouetted against the background stars, which will make it possible for us to detect them."

TAOS will consist of four telescopes (only half a meter in diameter), which will be used to monitor up to 2,000 stars. The telescopes will operate in the central highlands of Taiwan.

The optical performance of the TAOS telescopes proved difficult to achieve in a compact design.

"We depended on LLNL precision engineering, optical design and fabrication capabilities to build these telescopes," Cook said. "Without that expertise we would not have been able to build the TAOS telescopes."

The TAOS collaboration is made up of: King, A. Wang, C.Y. Wen, S.Y. Wang, and T. Lee from the Academia Sinica’s Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan; C. Alcock, R. Dave, J. Giammarco and Lehner from the University of Pennsylvania; Cook, S. Marshall and R. Porrata from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; W.P. Chen and Z.W. Zhang from the National Central University in Taiwan; Y.I. Byun from Yonsei University in South Korea; J. Lissauer from NASA’s Ames Research Center; and I. De Pater, C. Liang and J. Rice from UC Berkeley.

TAOS is funded by the Academia Sinica and the National Central University, which receive support from the Ministry of Education and the National Science Council in Taiwan; by the Korean Research Foundation in South Korea; and by NASA at the University of Pennsylvania and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Anne Stark | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.llnl.gov/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

nachricht New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot
26.04.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>