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 APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

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: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>