Tags Posts tagged with "Horch"

Horch

forumastronomyhowell
Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA's Kepler Mission, talks about how planets need to be in a 'habitable zone' to have a significant chance of harboring life. He discussed the Kepler Mission during a recent astronomy forum at Southern.

The question of whether we are alone in the universe has fascinated scientists and non-scientists alike for centuries.

While it’s true that speculation about intelligent beings inhabiting other planets has been fodder for science fiction, serious scientists also are eager to find out the answer to that age-old question. And the Kepler Mission is a first step — albeit a small one — toward finding the answer.

Steve Howell, project scientist for Kepler, was the keynote speaker during a Nov. 16 forum at Southern called, “Missions Possible: A Manned Flight to Mars, & Finding ‘New Earths’ in the Milky Way Galaxy.” He spoke about the conditions needed to maximize a planet’s ability to sustain life — such as being in the “Goldilocks Zone,” an area that is neither too close nor too far away from its sun.

The forum, held at Southern’s Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, attracted about 650 people, including about 425 high school students from 14 schools. Also in attendance were about 30 middle school students, 45 seniors from area senior centers and members of the general public, in addition to Southern students and faculty.

Howell and other speakers during the forum were asked by the audience whether they believe there is life on other planets — beyond microbes.

“It’s unknown,” said Elliott Horch, professor of physics at Southern. But Horch hinted that it certainly is possible given the vast number of planets that exist in our own galaxy, let alone the universe.

Howell noted the two planets believed to have the best chance of harboring life are Kepler-452(b) — which has been labeled as “Earth’s larger and older cousin,” and Kepler-186(f). It’s sun is similar to our own and the planet is believed to be in the habitable zone. But he cautioned that 452(b) is 1.7 times the size of Earth, and therefore it may well have a dense atmosphere and be more akin to a Neptune-like planet.

On the other hand, Kepler-186(f) is very similar in size to Earth, but it orbits a much cooler star than our Sun, and therefore may not be able to harbor life.

Howell added that there are other planets that Kepler has identified that could harbor life. And the project continues to find new candidates all the time.

Meanwhile, there has been much buzz in recent months about Mars — such as the discovery of liquid water on the planet. Jennifer Stern, a NASA space scientist who is an expert on Mars, also spoke at the forum. She discussed what life is like on the Red Planet and some of the challenges involved in a future manned flight to the Red Planet.

The program also included a panel discussion that included Elliott; Jim Fullmer, associate professor of earth science at Southern; and Tabetha Boyajian, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale and member of the citizen astronomy organization, “Planet Hunters.”

Elliott Horch (center) makes a point during the recent astronomy forum at Southern. Also pictured are (from left): Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA's Kepler Mission; Tabetha Boyajian, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University; Jim Fullmer, associate professor of earth science at Southern; and Jennifer Stern, a NASA space scientist and expert  on Mars.
Elliott Horch (center) makes a point during the recent astronomy forum at Southern. Also pictured are (from left): Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s Kepler Mission; Tabetha Boyajian, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University; Jim Fullmer, associate professor of earth science at Southern; and Jennifer Stern, a NASA space scientist and expert on Mars.

Coming soon: Talking About Mars

A Southern astrophysicist will take the clearest images ever photographed of 2,000 of the nearest stars to Earth as part of a collaborative project that ultimately will tell us how typical our solar system is within the Milky Way Galaxy.

The study – funded by a $335,326 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) – will enable Elliott Horch, professor of physics, to use an instrument he developed several years ago that is attached to telescopes and provides images many times clearer than previously could be taken. The device is called a Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI).

The grant was approved after research conducted by Georgia State University identified and catalogued stars within 150 light years of Earth. It is part of a collaborative effort in which SCSU will observe and capture images of the stars, followed by in-depth analysis by GSU.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to explore our ‘local neighborhood’ of stars and solar systems, and in effect, learn more about our own sun and solar system,” Horch said.

Horch will be among the panelists for SCSU’s Nov. 16 astronomy forum, “Missions Possible: A Manned Flight to Mars, & Finding ‘New Earths’ in the Milky Way Galaxy.” The forum will look at NASA’s plans for human exploration of Mars, as well as its Kepler Mission, the search for Earth-like planets outside of our solar system. The forum, free and open to the public, will run from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts.

Horch said among the questions to be answered in the new NSF-funded study is what percentage of these stars is binary. Binary stars are systems in which stars have a “companion” and in which they orbit around each other. The sun is considered a solitary star because it lacks such a companion.

“We believe it’s probably about a 50-50 breakdown in terms of solitary vs. binary, but this project will give us more data to see if that is true of these 2,000 stars,” Horch said. He noted that while there are more than 2,000 stars within 150 light years of Earth, this provides a representative sample to study.

Horch said the study also will look at how many stars have rocky planets like Earth and Mars orbiting them in a “habitable zone,” a distance that is neither too close nor too distant to support life.

He noted that the grant will enable the university to hire a doctoral student to assist with the project, as well as provide SCSU students with opportunities to participate in the research.

This will mark the third NSF grant that Horch has received in the last decade. In addition to being awarded a grant to develop the DSSI, he received a $300,000 grant recently to produce a double-barrel telescope that generates ultra-high resolutions. The technical name is a “portable multi-channel intensity inferometer.

“Using the DSSI is like putting eyeglasses on a telescope,” he said. “The double-barrel telescope is like remaking the whole eye.”

 

 

Seven years ago, Elliott Horch finished the development of a telescopic appendage for the National Science Foundation that provided astronomers with stunningly crisp images of outer space. The instrument, called a Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI), has been used to learn more about binary star systems, and was even used by NASA’s Kepler Mission to look for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.

And now the professor of physics at Southern is at it again – this time to produce a double-barrel telescope that would generate ultra-high resolutions with even more detailed information about celestial bodies. It’s called a portable multi-channel intensity interferometer. Horch says it’s essentially a two-telescope system, where the two scopes are set up far apart, but essentially look at the same target and function as one super telescope.

“With my previous instrument, the DSSI, it was like putting eyeglasses on a telescope,” he says. “This new project will be like remaking the whole eye.”

The NSF awarded Horch a $300,000 grant to create this new telescope, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

Horch says the primary use will be to look at bright, very close binary stars. Binary star systems feature two stars that revolve around each other. Many physicists, including Horch, believe the sun originally may have been a binary star. In essence, the new telescope would potentially help astronomers learn more about our own sun.

“But we also want to use the new device to study the disks of nearby stars and potentially for exoplanet research,” he says. He notes that the telescope would enable astronomers to see distant stars the way we see the sun and the moon now – as round disks, rather than as points.

“If it works well, it could give us the impetus to create similar instruments in the future with even larger separations between the ‘two telescopes.’”

The grant has enabled Horch to hire three Southern students – two undergraduates and a graduate student — to assist him with this project.

“I am very excited to have an opportunity to take part in this project,” says Justin Rupert, who is pursuing an M.S. degree in applied physics. “This really could be groundbreaking work.”

In addition, the grant is providing SCSU with pieces of cutting-edge equipment being used in the university’s new Academic Science and Laboratory Building.

For all you astronomy buffs, a follow-up to our recent post about NASA’s Kepler mission. The goal of the project is to identify potential Earth-like planets in a small swath of the Milky Way Galaxy. To date, Kepler has confirmed 105 planets that orbit in a “sweet spot” distance from their sun and have the potential to be hospitable to life.

A new study by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used the Kepler data and estimates that billions of such planets probably exist in the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy. Science.com reports the story.

Elliott Horch, an associate professor of physics at Southern who has developed a telescopic device that is being used in the Kepler mission, believes the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics study is legit.

“It is an estimate, with some sizable uncertainty, but it is based on data we have from Kepler so far,” Horch says. “Kepler is great for getting statistics of planets because it’s looking at so many stars at the same time.”

Who knows what else Kepler and related research will find in the months and years ahead?