Will study dark energy, conduct a census of discovered exoplanets, and image and analysis their spectroscopy using coronagraphy.
Space news (Astrophysics: next generation infrared telescope; WFIRST) – Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) –
Scheduled for launch sometime in 2020, the exact date hasn’t been set in stone, NASA’s Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope (WFIRST)’s currently in the formation stage in various science institutions around the United States. NASA’s next generation wide-field infrared survey telescope, WFIRST’s expected to open a wider window on the infrared cosmos and unravel secrets of the universe.
“WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterize planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter.”
Utilizing a view 100 times bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope, it will compliment astrophysicists exploring dark energy, dark matter, and the origins and evolution of the cosmos. Carrying a chronograph capable of blocking the individual glare of a star, WFIRST will detect the faint light of planets, making it possible for the first time to make detailed measurements of the chemical makeup of alien atmospheres light-years away. By making a survey of the atmospheres of many alien worlds astronomers will add to our knowledge of their origins and physics and search for planetary atmospheres capable of sustaining life.
“WFIRST is designed to address science areas identified as top priorities by the astronomical community,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “The Wide-Field Instrument will give the telescope the ability to capture a single image with the depth and quality of Hubble, but covering 100 times the area. The coronagraph will provide revolutionary science, capturing the faint, but direct images of distant gaseous worlds and super-Earths.”
Designed and engineered to compliment the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, and future Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope (TESS), WFIRST will follow the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope around 2018. One of NASA’s next generation astrophysics observatories, WFIRST will offer a treasure trove of astronomical data and survey the cosmos to discover the mysteries of the universe.
“In addition to its exciting capabilities for dark energy and exoplanets, WFIRST will provide a treasure trove of exquisite data for all astronomers,” said Neil Gehrels, WFIRST project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This mission will survey the universe to find the most interesting objects out there.”
WFIRST’s sensitivity and wide view of the cosmos will allow astronomers to conduct a large-scale survey of exoplanets by monitoring the brightness of millions of stars. Utilizing numerous methods, astrophysicists will use this space observatory to investigate the ways dark energy and dark matter have altered, affected the evolution of the cosmos.
Go for launch!
NASA’s chiseled a tentative date on paper of sometime in the 2020s for the launch of WFIRST, but delays and even improvements of this timetable are possible. After reaching space, NASA’s next generation wide-field infrared survey telescope will travel to an L2 point millions of miles from Earth, before starting astrophysical operations and improving and enhancing our view of the infrared cosmos.
Data shows at least one of two exoplanets studied orbits within the habitable zone of host red dwarf star in system TRAPPIST-1
Space news (the search for Earth 2.0: the first atmospheric study of Earth-sized exoplanets; TRAPPIST-1 system) – searching for possible atmospheres surrounding exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c 40 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius –
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for suitable exoplanets to act as a cradle for a new human genesis recently sampled the atmospheres of two exoplanets orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. They used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to observe TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c in near-infrared wavelengths to look for signs of an atmosphere. They discovered these two exoplanets probably don’t have the fluffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres found around larger, gaseous exoplanets.
The image seen at the top of the page is an artist’s portrayal of TRAPPIST-1b and 1c, two Earth-sized exoplanets shown passing in front of their host red dwarf star. Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to look for hints of atmospheres surrounding these distant worlds and detected signs increasing the chances of habitability.
“The lack of a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope increases the chances for habitability on these planets,” said team member Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. “If they had a significant hydrogen-helium envelope, there is no chance that either one of them could potentially support life because the dense atmosphere would act like a greenhouse.”
Julien de Wit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a team of astronomers used spectroscopy to decipher the light, revealing clues to the chemical composition of an atmosphere surrounding these candidates. By taking advantage of a rare double-transit of both exoplanets across the face of their host star, they collected starlight passing through any gas envelope surrounding these exoplanets. This event only occurs every two years, but it allowed for a simultaneous measurement of atmospheric characteristics. The exact composition’s still a mystery at this point, further observations are required to determine more clues. This is an exciting and promising start.
“These initial Hubble observations are a promising first step in learning more about these nearby worlds, whether they could be rocky like Earth, and whether they could sustain life,” says Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is an exciting time for NASA and exoplanet research.”
Estimates put the age of the host red dwarf star at around 500 million years, which is young for a star with a potential lifespan of trillions of years. Red dwarf stars burn a lot cooler, but completely consume their supply of hydrogen, unlike more massive types of stars. The most common star in the cosmos, astronomers think 20 out of 30 near-Earth suns could be red dwarfs. The numbers indicate searching nearby red dwarfs for an exoplanet with the right ingredients for habitability is a good place to begin our search.
The team and other astronomers plan on making follow-up measurements of these two exoplanets using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and other assets to look for thinner gas layers containing heavier atoms than hydrogen as in Earth’s atmosphere.
“With more data, we could perhaps detect methane or see water features in the atmospheres, which would give us estimates of the depth of the atmospheres,” said Hannah Wakeford, the paper’s second author, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Toward the future
In the years ahead, using assets like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers should be able to determine the exact composition of any atmospheres surrounding these exoplanets and others. Finding the signatures of water vapor and methane, or even carbon dioxide and ozone is a significant step toward possible habitability for lifeforms. The power of Webb should also allow planetary scientists to measure the surface and atmospheric temperature and pressure of each exoplanet. Both key factors to determining if these exoplanets orbiting red dwarf TRAPPIST-1 are possible cradles for the genesis of life.
“Thanks to several giant telescopes currently under construction, including ESO’s E-ELT and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope due to launch for 2018, we will soon be able to study the atmospheric composition of these planets and to explore them first for water, then for traces of biological activity. That’s a giant step in the search for life in the Universe,” says Julien de Wit.
“These Earth-sized planets are the first worlds that astronomers can study in detail with current and planned telescopes to determine whether they are suitable for life,” said de Wit. “Hubble has the facility to play the central atmospheric pre-screening role to tell astronomers which of these Earth-sized planets are prime candidates for more detailed study with the Webb telescope.”
No need not worry, according to planetary scientists, the majority of potential cradles for a new human Genesis have yet to be born
Space news (October 24, 2015) – The journey to Mars –
Earthlings thinking about moving to Mars, or another planet, with the first spacecraft leaving, can breathe a sigh of relief. Peter Behroozi and Molly Peeples of NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) have completed a studyof the percentage of Earth-like planets created during the life of the universe, so far, andaccording to estimates, the majority of Earth-like planets have yet to be born.
“Our main motivation was understanding the Earth’s place in the context of the rest of the universe,” said study author Peter Behroozi of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, “Compared to all the planets that will ever form in the universe, the Earth is actually quite early.”
“There is enough remaining material [after the big bang] to produce even more planets in the future, in the Milky Way and beyond,” added co-investigator Molly Peeples of STScI.
By Earth-like we mean an exoplanet the right distance from its parent star for water to exist in liquid form and the Genesis of life to take place. Earth is the only planet we know life exists on, but considering estimates of the size of the cosmos, one would certainly expect life has popped its head up somewhere else. If their estimates of the amount of gas left over for the formation of new stars is correct, the Milky Way and universe will be making new stars for a very long time.
There’s still lots of time to invent, or order on the uni-net (Universal Internet), a faster-than-light spacecraft to help in your search for a new home. Current estimates indicate there are at least 1 billion Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way. How many are suitable homes you can live on? Maybe by the time you get the spacecraft you need, they’ll have a better estimate of exactly how many are Earth-like.
You still have time to prepare!
Unless you’re a time traveler from the future, you have time to prepare, and this team of intrepid astronomers has time to refine their estimate. Hopefully, by then, we’ll be permanently connected to the uni-net, and you can just look online for the best property on an exoplanet far, far away.
You can learn more about NASA’s mandate to travel to the stars here.
Clues indicate “failed stars” generate Auroral displays a million times more powerful than on Earth
Space news (August 16, 2015) – 18.6 light-years from Earth
Called “failed stars” because they don’t have enough mass to fuse hydrogen in their cores and being too big to be classified as planets, brown dwarfs have been a focus of study for astrophysicists because their atmospheres’ are thought to be very similar to conditions on many of the exoplanets we have discovered.
Studying the atmosphere of cool brown dwarfs is easier than trying to gather data on the atmosphere of an exoplanet. Light from the parent starinterferes with the readings taken of the atmosphere of an exoplanet, making it harder to view through all the glare.
“It’s challenging to study the atmosphere of an exoplanet because there’s often a much brighter star nearby, whose light muddles observations. But we can look at the atmosphere of a brown dwarf without this difficulty,” Greg Hallinan said.
Astrophysicists studying brown dwarfs since the early 2000susing a trio of observatories have detected brilliant auroras dancing across the atmosphere of brown dwarf LSRJ1835+3259. Vivid red auroras, due to the higher hydrogen content of its atmosphere, estimated to be a million times more energetic than any viewed on Earth.
“This is a whole new manifestation of magnetic activity for that kind of object,” said Leon Harding, a technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of the study.
Auroras viewed on Earth are produced when charged particles, mostly electrons, from the solar wind strike atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere above the poles, resulting in vivid displays of mostly green colors that dance across the sky.
“As the electrons spiral down toward the atmosphere, they produce radio emissions, and then when they hit the atmosphere, they excite hydrogen in a process that occurs on Earth and other planets,” said Gregg Hallinan, assistant professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who led the team. “We now know that this kind of auroral behavior is extending all the way from planets up to brown dwarfs.“
Astrophysicists will now continue their studies of brown dwarfs using the Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array in New Mexico, the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and the Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. Plans to map the auroras of LSRJ1835+3259 are being discussed to see if they can find the source of the solar winds generating them. Brown dwarfs don’t generate a solar wind like other stars, so they’re kind of at a loss at this point as to the source.
My vote is for an orbiting exoplanet moving through the magnetosphere of LSRJ1835+3259 generating a current producing spectacular, vivid red auroras that light up the atmosphere. A show one of our robot explorers may view up close one day, but for now, astrophysicists will have to settle for studying it from a distance.
At the very least, studying brown dwarfs will help astrophysicists understand the atmospheres’ of exoplanets viewed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, better.
Hallinan and the rest of the team are also hoping to take a close look at the magnetic fields of exoplanets in the future. The Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array is coming online and plans are to take a few measurements of candidates in the Exoplanet Zoo.
You can learn more about NASA’s mission to the stars here.
You can discover the Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array here.
Take a look at all the discoveries of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory here.
NASA space scientists have discovered the first nearly Earth-sized exoplanet lying within the habitable zone of its Sun-like parent star
Space news (July 23, 2015) – 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –
Twenty years after proving other planets do exist the human journey to the beginning of space and time draws nearer to finding an Earth-like cradle for a new human Genesis.
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first nearly Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of a star much like our own Sun. Called Kepler-452b and roughly 60 percent bigger than our home planet, this exoplanet is the smallest planet found orbiting at a distance from its parent star where liquid water could exist.
“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.“
A Star Like Our Sun
Kepler-452b’s parent star is an older cousin to the Sun, a G2 type star approximately 20 percent brighter, 1.5 billion years older, and 10 percent bigger than Earth’s home star.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, biggercousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life to exist on this planet.”
A Rocky Exoplanet like Earth?
Kepler-452b is the twelfth exoplanet the human journey to the beginning of space and time has viewed lying within the habitable zone of its parent star. Data collected by both space and Earth-based telescopes indicates planets of this size are often rocky in nature. Indicating the possibility this exoplanet could have an atmosphere and environment that could act as a cradle for a new human Genesis to begin.
A New Human Genesis!
Humans traveling across spacetime to Kepler-452b would evolve during a voyage lasting thousands or even hundreds of years. Extended hibernation of some type would certainly make the journey easier, but this kind of technology hasn’t been developed. An alternative solution to extended periods living in space during a voyage unlike any humans have undertaken is probably a necessity.
Once we land on Kepler-452b, learning to survive and live on this foreign planet will evolve us once again. Humans are designed to evolve in order to survive living in different environments. We would likely survive as a species, but doing so would change us in ways we can’t begin to imagine.
521 New Candidates for the Exoplanet Zoo
At the same time, NASA released this news it announced the Kepler mission’s discovery of 521 new exoplanet candidates for the exoplanet zoo. 12 of these candidates orbit their parent star within the habitable zone and nine have home stars similar to the Sun in both size and temperature. Great news for the human desire to locate a second Earth to live on.
“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”
NASA space scientists will now take a closer look at each of the exoplanet candidates and specifically the ones lying within the habitable zone of their parent star. There could be a second Earth, a cradle for a new human Genesis, waiting to be discovered. An event that would change the course of human history on planet Earth and the way we view ourselves as cosmic beings.
Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?
Space news (July 13, 2015) – collisions indicating possible gravitational effects of unseen orbiting exoplanets or consequences of the star traveling through interstellar space –
Space scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a visible-light imaging survey of the debris field systems around 10 young stars between the ages of 10 million to 1 billion years old. Debris fields they studied in order to better understand the early solar system and formation of the planets.
“It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.
What did the survey find?
Space scientists studying the evolution of stars and the formation of planets used to think debris fields surrounding young stars should be composed of simple pancake-like structures.
The complexity and diversity in debris fields studied in this recent survey strongly suggest this scenario is a little more involved than theories suggest. Facts indicate the possibility of gravitational effects of unseen exoplanets hidden within the dusty debris, the results of the young star traveling through interstellar space, or something unthought of as the reason for the deviation from theory.
“We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said. “These are actually pretty complicated three-dimensional debris systems, often with embedded smaller structures. Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets.” The astronomers used Hubble’s Space Telescope
Imaging Spectrograph to study 10 previously discovered circumstellar debris systems.
Star HD 181327 Shows Huge Debris Spray
The ring-like debris system surrounding star HD 181327 has irregularities space scientists think could be due to a recent collision between two bodies on the outer part of the system.
“This spray of material is fairly distant from its host star — roughly twice the distance that Pluto is from the sun,” said co-investigator Christopher Stark. “Catastrophically destroying an object that massive at such a large distance is difficult to explain, and it should be very rare. If we are in fact seeing the recent aftermath of a massive collision, the unseen planetary system may be quite chaotic.”
“Another interpretation for the irregularity is that the disk has been mysteriously warped by the star’s passage through interstellar space, directly interacting with the unseen interstellar material. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said. “Our team is currently analyzing follow-up observations that will help reveal the true cause of the irregularity.”
As of 07/09/2015 space scientists have verified the existence of 1858 exoplanets, including 468 exosolar systems with multiple planets, and 92 Earth-size terrestrial-type planets. The structure and overall architecture of the systems discovered so far are more diverse than astrophysicists first proposed.
During this time, space scientists have only viewed about two dozen light-scattering, circumstellar debris systems due to their comparative faintness and proximity to their parent stars. Despite the small sample size in exoplanetary debris systems astronomers view a surprising variety of architectures.
“We are now seeing a similar diversity in the architecture of the accompanying debris systems,” Schneider said. “How are the planets affecting the disks, and how are the disks affecting the planets? There is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris that might affect the evolution of these exoplanetary debris systems.”
Space scientists will now use the results obtained through this survey and the overall study of the debris system disks viewed to devise new theories and experiments to determine more about the evolution and growth of young stars in the cosmos.
They’ll also use the data and information gained to begin looking at how our solar system formed and evolved during the past 4.6 billion years. They want to study collisions between objects like HD 181327 and Earth-like planets to give more insight into the birth and evolution of our planet and the Moon during the first moments of the solar system.
You can learn more about and follow NASA’s space mission here.
Is a sign smaller exoplanets could have similar or more hospitable environments
Space news (November 07, 2014) 120 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –
NASA space scientists using the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes detected clear skies and steamy water vapor on exoplanet HAT-P-11b. This is the first detection of molecules on an exoplanet the size of Neptune or smaller. It’s also a sign smaller exoplanets have similar or more hospitable environments.
How did space scientists detect clear skies and steamy vapor on a planet 120 light-years away in the Constellation Cygnus? Astronomers used the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to observe HAT-P-11b as it passed in front of its parent star in relation to Earth. By analyzing the starlight passing through the atmosphere of the exoplanet, space scientists determined the specific molecules making it up.
This scientific technique is called Transmission Spectroscopy and it was particularly effective in the case of HAT-P-11b because of this Neptune-size exoplanet (exo-Neptune), unlike previous ones detected, has no clouds in the atmosphere to block the starlight from coming through, which allowed for the detection of water vapor molecules.
“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”
“When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, College Park, lead author of a new study appearing in Nature. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.”
“We think that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions, which reflect their formation histories,” said study co-author Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Now with data like these, we can begin to piece together a narrative for the origin of these distant worlds.”
“We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from the University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.”
NASA space scientists will now use the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to begin looking at more exoplanets the size of HAT-P-11b for clear skies and water vapor. They’ll also hope to use Transmission Spectroscopy to detect smaller exoplanets, more like our home planet, called super-Earths orbiting distant stars. Once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online in 2018, they’ll begin looking at any super-Earths detected for signs of water vapor and other molecules.