Palm-sized satellites could hunt for alien worlds

Palm-sized satellites could hunt for alien worlds

New research shows that tiny satellites can, when in orbit, detect alien worlds from afar.

The 2230-pound (1052 kg) NASA Kepler space telescope discovered thousands of potential planets around other stars. Currently, some scientists are focused on reducing. They suggest using satellites to search for new worlds, which in a smaller version can easily fit in the palm of your hand.

“We want to use a cheaper option than sending a huge satellite. This will help collect more data in less time and in less money, ”said Amir Blake in an interview with, a bachelor’s student at Howard University in Washington, DC. Blake and his supervisor Aki Roberge, NASA astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, explored the possibility of using a smaller tool known as Cubesat to search for a new planet near the Beta Painter star, which, as already known, has at least one world - Beta Painter b (Beta Pictoris b). He presented the results in January at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Florida.

“We would like to know if there are planets other than Beta Painter b, and if so, where are they?” Said Blake.

Small but powerful

In 2008, scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to detect a giant planet more than 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter in the beta of the Painter. Turning around its star at a distance of 9 times more than the distance from the Earth to the Sun, Beta Painter b is the closest exoplanet obtained in the image, a technique that, in fact, photographs other worlds. The method works fine with giant planets several times larger than Jupiter’s mass, but faces problems when it comes to viewing smaller worlds or worlds located close to its star. Blake and Robertge are interested in launching Cubesat into space to search for a new world around a star. Evidence suggests that the planet system is located almost on the edge (edge), as seen from Earth. That is, we are oriented in such a way that we look at the edge of the system, and not from above or below. Researchers have noticed a garbage disk extending over a distance of more than 1,400 times the distance Earth from the Sun on either side of the star, and the orbit of this planet is also oriented with this direction. This should allow Cubesat to search for other planets through a process called the transit method, which should see worlds inside the Beta Painter orbit b.

Unlike the direct image method, which is based on the capture of light reflected from the planet, the transit method, also used by the Kapler telescope, searches for dips in the brightness of the star when the planet moves between it and the Earth. Devices can detect the presence of transit planets only if they pass between the star and the Earth, so the system must be within a few degrees, being turned edge to Earth.

Based on their prior research, Blake said that Cubesat should be able to detect the most massive gas giants in a short orbit.

“We can certainly see the hot Jupiters,” he said, referring to worlds with a mass several times larger than the largest planet in the solar system, in orbits closer than Mercury. “We would like to capture small planets like Neptune, but things get more complicated when you get to smaller planets.”

Stable review and collection

A few years ago, planetary hunter Sarah Signer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggested using a fleet of Cubesat satellites to survey parts of the sky in search of worlds outside the solar system. Blake said that the idea inspired him and his manager to consider the possibility of launching one device aimed at one star. This avoids problems with focusing and redirecting a set of satellites.

“This is just an inspection of a single object and the collection of as much information as possible,” said Blake.

Blake announced that sending one satellite would give a powerful impetus for the entire project. After the method proves its work, new satellites can be launched to search for new worlds or to confirm preliminary observations, for example, made by Kepler.

However, when it comes to detection, searches should be limited to stars, which already demonstrate that their systems are facing edge to Earth. Researchers can identify such stars by observing massive fragments of disks around them or by focusing on stars with directly displayed worlds whose orbits are ribs.

Cubesat satellites were first introduced in 1999 as compact models that students could build to conduct experiments and test new technologies. Their standard form represents a 4x4x4 inch cube (10x10x10 centimeters), which allows them to land in space during other major launches. Two will be launched in March 2016 to cover the entrance, descent and landing of the upcoming NASA InSight landing module to Mars. The biggest challenge for the Cubesat mission will be the hunt for worlds around a specific target, given time. The scientific community requires at least three transits — an object must pass three times between the Sun and the Earth in order to confirm its status as a planet. Blake's study suggests a Cubesat orbital duration of 1.5 years, although it may be reduced to 1 year. To confirm the status of the planet would take those who fly around their stars every 2-6 months.

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