Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Planet hunters pledge Eddington support

15.01.2002


Stellar silhouette: artist’s impression of a giant planet passing it’s parent star. Eddington could spot a shadow 10 times smaller.
© Lynette R. Cook


Belt tightening cloud could have silver-lining for Europe’s planet hunters

European planet hunters are rallying round a beleaguered effort to launch the first spacecraft that might detect Earth-like planets beyond our own Solar System. Meeting in London last week they agreed that the low-cost, low-risk mission has a lot to offer.

The planet-spotting mission Eddington has been approved by the European Space Agency (ESA), but is currently on hold awaiting funds; unless they materialize it could be scrapped by the end of the year. "Everything is up in the air at the moment," says Ian Roxburgh, an astronomer at the University of London and joint-leader of the mission1.



The spacecraft, named after the 1930s British astronomer Arthur Eddington, will hover in an orbit between the Earth and the Sun for four years. It will train light sensors on a cluster of 500,000 nearby stars, hoping to detect the silhouettes of Earth-sized planets passing in front of them.

Star turn

This technique and others have spotted over 70 planets in our Galaxy outside our own Solar System. The planets seen so far have all been huge - at least as big as Jupiter. But interference from the atmosphere and the rotation of the Earth have made it impossible to see a star clearly enough for long enough to infer the presence of smaller, Earth-sized planets.

Astronomers hope that the Eddington mission will detect planets as small as Mars. By measuring how fast a planet is moving, it will also estimate how far away from its star a planet is orbiting, and therefore whether it is capable of supporting life. "We can calculate whether the planet lies in the habitable zone - neither too hot nor too cold for life," says Roxburgh.

Eddington’s camera will also study stars’ innards. By monitoring fluctuating light emissions, it will discern ripples on the surface on stars, which are evidence of inner shock waves. "The (wave) frequency we observe at the surface of stars is a direct probe of what is going on within," says Fabio Favata, Eddington’s mission scientist at ESA.

This technique - called astroseismology - can only be performed in the stillness of space. It has never been done before beyond our own Sun. "These studies will help us understand the evolution of stars and galaxies, and improve our methods for measuring stellar ages and distances," says Roxburgh.

Competition time

Until recently, says Alan Penny, joint-leader of Eddington at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, UK, the mission seemed to be doomed after ESA cut its budget for space science missions1. And last month NASA gave funding to Kepler - an all-American mission almost identical to Eddington - to look for Earth-like planets in the same region of space, only with a larger telescope.

Now all-round belt-tightening could act to Eddington’s advantage. "Eddington was on thin ice, but now everyone is on thin ice," Penny says. Sean O’Keefe, NASA’s new administrator, who was appointed in November, is cutting spending; and several ESA missions are falling behind deadline. Eddington is cheap and reliable and so "could rapidly fill the gap if the spending profile moves", suggests Penny.

William Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffat Field, California, is confident that the Kepler mission that he is leading will be the first to spot Earth-sized planets. "We’ve every reason to think we’re going to fly," he says.

But Borucki hopes Eddington makes it too. "I don’t think of it as a competition," he says. "It’s an important mission and will add to our science."

References

  1. Goodman, S. Europe puts the squeeze on space projects. Nature, 414, 383, (2001).


TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/020114/020114-2.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds
20.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

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: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>