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.
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