Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .




Subscribe to our free daily newsletters



EXO WORLDS
Searching for Far Out and Wandering Worlds
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Apr 08, 2016


An example of grviting lensing being used to detect extrasolar planets

Astronomers have made great strides in discovering planets outside of our solar system, termed "exoplanets." In fact, over the past 20 years more than 5,000 exoplanets have been detected beyond the eight planets that call our solar system home.

The majority of these exoplanets have been found snuggled up to their host star completing an orbit (or year) in hours, days or weeks, while some have been found orbiting as far as Earth is to the Sun, taking one Earth year to circle. But, what about those worlds that orbit much farther out, such as Jupiter and Saturn, or, in some cases, free-floating exoplanets that are on their own and have no star to call home? In fact, some studies suggest that there may be more free-floating exoplanets than stars in our galaxy.

This week, NASA's K2 mission, the repurposed mission of the Kepler space telescope, and other ground-based observatories, have teamed up to kick-off a global experiment in exoplanet observation. Their mission: survey millions of stars toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy in search of distant stars' planetary outposts and exoplanets wandering between the stars.

While today's planet-hunting techniques have favored finding exoplanets near their sun, the outer regions of a planetary system have gone largely unexplored. In the exoplanet detection toolkit, scientists have a technique well suited to search these farthest outreaches and the space in between the stars. This technique is called gravitational microlensing.

Gravitational Microlensing
For this experiment, astronomers rely on the effect of a familiar fundamental force of nature to help detect the presence of these far out worlds - gravity. The gravity of massive objects such as stars and planets produces a noticeable effect on other nearby objects.

But gravity also influences light, deflecting or warping the direction of light that passes close to massive objects. This bending effect can make gravity act as a lens, concentrating light from a distant object, just as a magnifying glass can focus the light from the Sun.

Scientists can take advantage of the warping effect by measuring the light of distant stars, looking for a brightening that might be caused by a massive object, such as a planet, that passes between a telescope and a distant background star. Such a detection could reveal an otherwise hidden exoplanet.

"The chance for the K2 mission to use gravity to help us explore exoplanets is one of the most fantastic astronomical experiments of the decade," said Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA's Kepler and K2 missions at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "I am happy to be a part of this K2 campaign and look forward to the many discoveries that will be made."

This phenomenon of gravitational microlensing - "micro" because the angle by which the light is deflected is small - is the effect for which scientists will be looking during the next three months. As an exoplanet passes in front of a more distant star, its gravity causes the trajectory of the starlight to bend, and in some cases results in a brief brightening of the background star as seen by the observatory.

The lensing events caused by a free-floating exoplanet last on the order of a day or two, making the continuous gaze of the Kepler spacecraft an invaluable asset for this technique.

"We are seizing the opportunity to use Kepler's uniquely sensitive camera to sniff for planets in a different way," said Geert Barentsen, research scientist at Ames.

The ground-based observatories will record simultaneous measurements of these brief events. From their different vantage points, space and Earth, the measurements can determine the location of the lensing foreground object through a technique called parallax.

"This is a unique opportunity for the K2 mission and ground-based observatories to conduct a dedicated wide-field microlensing survey near the center of our galaxy," said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

"This first-of-its-kind survey serves as a proof of concept for NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which will launch in the 2020s to conduct a larger and deeper microlensing survey. In addition, because the Kepler spacecraft is about 100 million miles from Earth, simultaneous space- and ground-based measurements will use the parallax technique to better characterize the systems producing these light amplifications."

To understand parallax, extend your arm and hold up your thumb. Close one eye and focus on your thumb and then do the same with the other eye. Your thumb appears to move depending on the vantage point. For humans to determine distance and gain depth perception, the vantage points, our eyes, use parallax.

Flipping the Spacecraft
The Kepler spacecraft trails Earth as it orbits the Sun and is normally pointed away from Earth during the K2 mission. But this orientation means that the part of the sky being observed by the spacecraft cannot generally be observed from Earth at the same time, since it is mostly in the daytime sky.

To allow simultaneous ground-based observations, flight operations engineers at Ball Aerospace and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder will perform a maneuver turning the spacecraft around to point the telescope in the forward velocity vector. So, instead of looking toward where it's been, the spacecraft will look in the direction of where it's going.

This alignment will also yield a viewing opportunity of Earth and the Moon as they cross the spacecraft's field of view. On April 14 at 11:50 a.m. PDT (18:50 UT), Kepler will record a full frame image.

The result of that image will be released to the public archive in June once the data has been downloaded and processed. Kepler measures the change in brightness of objects and does not resolve color or physical characteristics of an observed object.

Observing from Earth
To achieve the objectives of this important path-finding research and community exercise in anticipation of WFIRST, approximately two-dozen ground-based observatories on six continents will observe in concert with K2. Each will contribute to various aspects of the experiment and will help explore the distribution of exoplanets across a range of stellar systems and distances.

These results will aid in our understanding of planetary system architectures, as well as the frequency of exoplanets throughout our galaxy.

For a complete list of participating observatories, reference the paper that defines the experiment: Campaign 9 of the K2 Mission.

During the roughly 80-day observing period or campaign, astronomers hope to discover more than 100 lensing events, ten or more of which may have signatures of exoplanets occupying relatively unexplored regimes of parameter space.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once


credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly


paypal only

.


Related Links
Kepler at NASA
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
EXO WORLDS
NASA's Spitzer Maps Climate Patterns on a Super-Earth
Pasadena CA (JPL) Apr 01, 2016
Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have led to the first temperature map of a super-Earth planet - a rocky planet nearly two times as big as ours. The map reveals extreme temperature swings from one side of the planet to the other, and hints that a possible reason for this is the presence of lava flows. "Our view of this planet keeps evolving," said Brice Olivier Demory of th ... read more


EXO WORLDS
The Moon thought to play a major role in maintaining Earth's magnetic field

Moon Mission: A Blueprint for the Red Planet

The Lunar Race That Isn't

Earth's moon wandered off axis billions of years ago

EXO WORLDS
Help keep heat on Mars Express through data mining

Scientists find Mars surface replica in India

Ancient Mars bombardment likely enhanced life-supporting habitat

Rover takes on steepest slope ever tried on Mars

EXO WORLDS
Silicon Beach: LA tech hub where the sun always shines

Spanish port becomes global 'smart city' laboratory

New DNA/RNA Tool to Diagnose, Treat Diseases

ASU to develop the next generation science education courseware for NASA

EXO WORLDS
Lessons learned from Tiangong 1

China launches SJ-10 retrievable space science probe

Has Tiangong 1 gone rogue

China's 1st space lab Tiangong-1 ends data service

EXO WORLDS
Russian cargo ship docks successfully with space station

Russia launches cargo ship to space station

Cargo ship reaches space station on resupply run

Unmanned Cygnus cargo ship launches to ISS on resupply run: NASA

EXO WORLDS
NASA Progresses Toward SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station

Boeing takes steps to block sale of Sea Launch

Reusing Falcon 9 boosters would slash costs by 30 percent

Atlas V OA-6 Anomaly Status

EXO WORLDS
ALMA's most detailed image of a protoplanetary disc

Planet formation in Earth-like orbit around a young star

NASA's Spitzer Maps Climate Patterns on a Super-Earth

'Smoothed' light will help search for Earth's twins

EXO WORLDS
New state of matter detected in a two-dimensional material

Light helps develop programmable materials

Upgrade to offer power boost to world's brightest X-ray laser

Record-breaking steel could be used for body armor, shields for satellites




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News






The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement