Spaceflight Now Home



Spaceflight Now +



Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

NOAA pre-launch
Officials from NASA, NOAA, the Air Force and Boeing hold the pre-launch news conference at Vandenberg Air Force Base to preview the mission of a Delta 2 rocket and the NOAA-N weather satellite. (29min 54sec file)

 Play video:
   Dial-up | Broadband

Countdown culmination
Watch shuttle Discovery's countdown dress rehearsal that ends with a simulated main engine shutdown and post-abort safing practice. (13min 19sec file)
 Play video

Going to the pad
The five-man, two-woman astronaut crew departs the Operations and Checkout Building to board the AstroVan for the ride to launch pad 39B during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test countdown dress rehearsal. (3min 07sec file)
 Play video

Suiting up
After breakfast, the astronauts don their launch and entry partial pressure suits before heading to the pad. (3min 14sec file)
 Play video

Astronaut breakfast
Dressed in festive Hawaiian shirts, Discovery's seven astronauts are gathered around the dining room table in crew quarters for breakfast. They were awakened at 6:05 a.m. EDT to begin the launch day dress rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center. (1min 57sec file)
 Play video

Training at KSC
As part of their training at Kennedy Space Center, the Discovery astronauts learn to drive an armored tank that would be used to escape the launch pad and receive briefings on the escape baskets on the pad 39B tower. (5min 19sec file)
 Play video

Discovery's crew
Shuttle Discovery's astronauts pause their training at launch pad 39B to hold an informal news conference near the emergency evacuation bunker. (26min 11sec file)

 Play video:
   Dial-up | Broadband

Astronaut Hall of Fame
The 2005 class of Gordon Fullerton, Joe Allen and Bruce McCandless is inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Saturn 5 Center on April 30. (1hr 24min 55sec file)
 Play video

'Salute to Titan'
This video by Lockheed Martin relives the storied history of the Titan rocket family over the past five decades. (4min 21sec file)
 Play video

Titan history
Footage from that various Titan rocket launches from the 1950s to today is compiled into this movie. (6min 52sec file)
 Play video

Become a subscriber
More video



Canadian satellite plays hide and seek with exoplanet
UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 16, 2005

MOST, Canada's first space telescope, has turned up an important clue about the atmosphere and cloud cover of a mysterious planet around another star, by playing a cosmic game of 'hide and seek' as that planet moves behind its parent star in its orbit.

The exoplanet, with a name only an astrophysicist could love, HD209458b (orbiting the star HD209458a), cannot be seen directly in images, so the scientists on the MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of STars) Satellite Team have been using their space telescope to look for the dip in light when the planet disappears behind the star. "We can now say that this puzzling planet is less reflective than the gas giant Jupiter in our own Solar System," MOST Mission Scientist Dr. Jaymie Matthews announced today at the annual meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society in Montreal. "This is telling us about the nature of this exoplanet's atmosphere, and even whether it has clouds."

Many of the planets discovered around other stars, known as exoplanets or extrasolar planets, hug surprisingly close to their parent stars; HD209458b orbits at only 1/20th of the Earth-Sun distance (an Astronomical Unit or AU). It could never support life as we know it. But understanding HD209458b is a key piece in the puzzle of planet formation and evolution that is revising theories of our own Solar System, and estimates of how common are habitable worlds in our Galaxy. How a giant ball of gas that is larger than the planet Jupiter (which orbits 5 AU from our Sun) got so close to its star, and how its atmosphere responds to the powerful radiation and gravitation fields of that star, are still open questions to exoplanetary scientists.

"The way this planet reflects light back to us from the star is sensitive to its atmospheric composition and temperature," describes Jason Rowe, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia who processed the MOST data. "HD209458b is reflecting back to us less than 1/10,000th of the total visible light coming directly from the star. That means it reflects less than 30-40% of the light it receives from its star, which already eliminates many possible models for the exoplanetary atmosphere." By comparison, the planet Jupiter would reflect about 50% of the light in the wavelength range seen by MOST.

"Imagine trying to see a mosquito buzzing around a 400-Watt streetlamp. But not at the street corner, or a few blocks away, but 1000 km away!" explains Dr. Matthews. "That's equivalent to what we're trying to do with MOST to detect the planet in the HD209458 system."

The planet was detected directly earlier this year in the infrared by NASA's US$720M Spitzer Space Observatory. At a wavelength of 24 micrometres, about 50,000 times longer than the light waves seen by human eyes, the exoplanet HD209458b is actually faintly glowing, with what physicists call "thermal emission." MOST looks at the Universe in the same wavelength range as the eye. By combining the Spitzer far-infrared thermal result with the MOST visible light reflection limit, theoreticians are now able to develop a realistic model of the atmosphere of this so-called "hot Jupiter."

And MOST has not given up on HD209458b. "It can orbit, but it can't hide," quips Dr. Matthews. "MOST will put this system under a 45-day stakeout at the end of the summer to continue to improve our detection limit. Eventually, the planet will emerge from the noise and we'll have a clearer picture of the composition of the exoplanet atmosphere and even its weather - temperature, pressure and cloud cover."

A scientific paper on these results will be submitted soon, by Jason Rowe and Dr. Jaymie Matthews (UBC), Dr. Sara Seager (Carnegie Institute of Washington), Dr. Dimitar Sasselov (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), and the rest of the MOST Science Team, with members from UBC, the University of Toronto, Universite de Montreal, St. Mary's University, and the University of Vienna.

Dr. Seager, a world leader in the field of modelling exoplanet atmospheres, emphasises the challenge of this kind of science: "We're like weather forecasters trying to understand winds and clouds on a world we can't even see. It's hard enough for meteorologists to tell you whether it will be cloudy tomorrow in your hometown here on Earth. Imagine what it's like to try to forecast weather on a planet 150 light years away!"

Dr. Sasselov is also excited by MOST's early findings: "This capability of MOST is paving the way to the great prize - the discovery of Earth-sized planets. The search for other worlds like home is now on." Dr. Matthews can't resist adding, "Not bad for a space telescope with a mirror the size of a pie plate and a price tag of Can$10M, eh?"

MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of STars) is a Canadian Space Agency mission. Dynacon Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, is the prime contractor for the satellite and its operation, with the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) as a major subcontractor. The University of British Columbia (UBC) is the main contractor for the instrument and scientific operations of the MOST mission. MOST is tracked and operated through a global network of ground stations located at UTIAS, UBC and the University of Vienna.

Telescopes.com
Largest selection and the best prices anywhere in the world. Free shipping on select items. Telescopes.com is the largest dealer of both Meade and Celestron Telescopes. Visit Telescopes.com or call toll free 1-800-303-5873.
Ares 1-X Patch
The official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
 U.S. STORE

Expedition 21
The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Hubble Patch
The official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle's last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Commemorative shuttle pin
This official NASA pin marks the return to flight effort. It features an embossed space shuttle at solid rocket booster separation in antique gold plate.
 Choose your store:
U.S.

INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.