NIAC Phase I Award: Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of Exoplanets

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission. (Credit: Slava Turyshev)

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission

Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

We propose to study a mission to the deep regions outside the solar system that will exploit the remarkable optical properties of the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) focus to effectively build an astronomical telescope capable of direct megapixel high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy of a potentially habitable exoplanet. Although theoretically it seems feasible, the engineering aspects of building such an astronomical telescope on the large scales involved were not addressed before; we propose to do that.

Our main question for this study is not “how to get there?” (although it will also be addressed), but rather “what does it take to operate a spacecraft at such enormous distances with the needed precision?”

Specifically, we propose to study I) how a space mission to the focal region of the SGL may be used to obtain high-resolution direct imaging and spectroscopy of an exoplanet by detecting, tracking, and studying the Einstein’s ring around the Sun, and II) how such information could be used to unambiguously detect and study life on another planet.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets

The Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets Concept. (Credit: Chris Mann)

Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets

Chris Mann
Nanohmics, Inc.
Austin, Texas

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

All stars exhibit intensity fluctuations over several time scales, from nanoseconds to days; these intensity fluctuations echo off planetary bodies in the star system and provide an opportunity to detect and possibly image exoplanets using modern computational imaging techniques.

A mission utilizing stellar echo detectors could provide continent-level imaging of exoplanets more readily than interferometric techniques, as high temporal resolution detection is less technically challenging and more cost effective than multikilometer-baseline fringe-tracking, particularly in a photon-starved regime.

The concept is also viable for survey missions for detecting exoplanets at more diverse orbital inclinations than is possible with transit or radial velocity techniques.

Under a Phase I NIAC program, we evaluated the feasibility of the stellar echo technique and, while several practical constraints have been identified, we have not identified any fundamental limitations.

We determined that the foundational technology already exists and has high TRL in space missions. Furthermore, the measurements required to demonstrate the feasibility of stellar echo detection are complementary to asteroseismology measurements, so a demonstration mission would provide high-value scientific information to other active astrophysics programs.

Under the Phase II program, we will continue to advance the theoretical understanding of stellar echo imaging, improve on the computational methods developed in Phase I, evaluate specific hardware implementations, and ultimately produce a roadmap for the demonstration of stellar echo detection and imaging of exoplanets.

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TRAPPIST-1: A Treasure Trove of Planets Found


Video Caption:
Seven Earth-sized planets have been observed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope around a tiny, nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets are firmly in the habitable zone.

Over 21 days, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope measured the drop in light as each planet passed in front of the star. Spitzer was able to identify a total of seven rocky worlds, including three in the habitable zone, where liquid water might be found.

The video features interviews with Sean Carey, manager of the Spitzer Science Center, Caltech/IPAC; Nikole Lewis, James Webb Space Telescope project scientist, Space Telescope Science Institute; and Michaël Gillon, principal investigator, TRAPPIST, University of Liege, Belgium.

The system has been revealed through observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the ground-based TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) telescope, as well as other ground-based observatories. The system was named for the TRAPPIST telescope.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at Caltech/IPAC. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer and http://spitzer.caltech.edu.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA VR: On the Surface of Planet TRAPPIST-1d


Video Caption:
This 360-degree panorama depicts the surface of a newly detected planet, TRAPPIST-1d, part of a seven planet system some 40 light years away. You can explore this artist’s rendering of an alien world by moving the view using your mouse or your mobile device.

The depiction is based on the latest scientific data about this planetary system, and this world’s sister planets can be seen as bright points of light in a dark sky. Each world is roughly in Earth’s size range, in terms of both mass and diameter. Further observations will be needed to determine whether any or all of these worlds might be habitable.

For more on TRAPPIST 1, visit: http://exoplanets.nasa.gov and https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/trappist1

NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

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European Southern Observatory to Search for Planets in Alpha Centauri

european_southern_observatory_eso_logoBreakthrough Initiatives Press Release

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

ESO, represented by the Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives, represented by Pete Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. The agreement provides funds for the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) instrument, mounted at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to be modified in order to greatly enhance its ability to search for potentially habitable planets around Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to the Earth. The agreement also provides for telescope time to allow a careful search programme to be conducted in 2019.

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Planetary Resources Announces Kickstarter Extended Goal: Hunting for Planets

planetary_resourcesBellevue, Washington, June 11, 2013 (Planetary Resources PR) – Alien planets are out there and Planetary Resources needs your help to find them! That’s right, the same high-powered telescope technology being used by Planetary Resources to identify near-Earth asteroids can also be used to hunt for what scientists call extrasolar planets or “exoplanets” – which are very much alien worlds. For the first-time ever, this capability will be placed directly into the hands of students, researchers and citizen scientists.

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Kepler Finds First Earth-Size Planet Candidates

Kepler-11 is a sun-like star around which six planets orbit. At times, two or more planets pass in front of the star at once, as shown in this artist's conception of a simultaneous transit of three planets observed by NASA's Kepler spacecraft on Aug. 26, 2010. Image credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

NASA PROGRAM UPDATE

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.

Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system.

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Kepler Finds Five Exoplanets

This artist's concept shows a cloudy Jupiter-like planet that orbits very close to its fiery hot star. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
This artist's concept shows a cloudy Jupiter-like planet that orbits very close to its fiery hot star. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

NASA MISSION UPDATE

NASA’s Kepler space telescope, designed to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars, has discovered its first five new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

Kepler’s high sensitivity to both small and large planets enabled the discovery of the exoplanets, named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b. The discoveries were announced Monday, Jan. 4, by the members of the Kepler science team during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington.

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ESO Announces Discovery of 32 New Exoplanets

eso_Gliese_667
An artist's conception of a planet orbiting Gliese 667 C. The 6 Earth-mass exoplanet circulates around its low-mass host star at a distance equal to only 1/20th of the Earth-Sun distance. The host star is a companion to two other low-mass stars, which are seen here in the distance. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

ESO PRESS RELEASE

Today, at an international ESO/CAUP exoplanet conference in Porto, the team who built the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, better known as HARPS, the spectrograph for ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope, reports on the incredible discovery of some 32 new exoplanets, cementing HARPS’s position as the world’s foremost exoplanet hunter. This result also increases the number of known low-mass planets by an impressive 30%. Over the past five years HARPS has spotted more than 75 of the roughly 400 or so exoplanets now known.

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