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.
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.
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."
TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top
20.04.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
New record on squeezing light to one atom: Atomic Lego guides light below one nanometer
20.04.2018 | ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy