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Roman Telescope Could Turn up Over 100,000 Planets Through Microlensing – Universe Today

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Recently we reported on a haul of 2,200 new exoplanets from the 2 year primary mission of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). But that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of exoplanet hunting.  If calculations from NASA are correct the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope could detect up to 100,000 new exoplanets when it launches in 2025.

There are two ways Roman will look for potential exoplanets.  The first is a more traditional method, already used by TESS and Kepler, to watch for the faiting dimming of a star that happens when a planet passes in front of it.  This technique, known as transiting, is the process that has found the bulk of exoplanets so far.

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UT video discussing transits – one of the techniques Roman will use to detect new exoplanets.

Roman will have much more sensitive systems than any currently launched transiting exoplanet satellite so far.  That sensitivity will allow it to detect worlds much farther away than TESS and similar satellites.  Exoplanets found by TESS are generally located approximately 150 light years away while Kepler focused on a specific path of sky up to about 2,000 light years away.  While it’s nice to collect data on our galactic neighborhood, there are a relatively small number of stars there.  Roman, on the other hand, will be sensitive enough to detect planet candidates up to 26,000 light years away, reaching almost all the way to the center of the galaxy.  

But it won’t be able to reach that far using the transiting technique alone.  It will also rely on a much more novel technique for exoplanet hunting – microlensing.  Microlensing itself has been around for some time, and results in some absolutely spectacular astronomical images, such as the “Molten Ring” discovered not long ago.  The technique uses a principle of the theory of relativity to take advantage of the fact that light can bend around massive objects, such as a star.  

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UT Video discussing the search for exoplanets.

When Roman finds a pair of stars that create a lensing effect, it will be able to detect slight changes in both the stars in the system, allowing it to see transits in stars that are much farther away than would otherwise be possible.  Additionally, lensing would add the unique ability to potentially detect planets that are transiting on the opposite site of a star doing the lensing.  Any planets found via this technique would dim the light from the star being microlensed, but only because it is blocking that light before it reaches the gravitational pull of the star nearer to Earth the planet is orbiting.

This microlensing technique might also be helpful in finding another type of exoplanet.  Known as “rogue planets”, these are not gravitationally bound to a star.  Scientists have seen them in the past, but usually only when they are newly formed and emitting infrared radiation.  Roman has the potential to see hundreds more of these wanderers, helping to flesh out their formation process and evolution.

Graphic showing the searchable areas for each of the three main exoplanet hunting space telescopes. Roman will able to reach much further than ever before.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Rogue planets will likely only make up a small percentage of the total number of planets detected though. A paper was released a few years ago discussing the two techniques and how they might be used.  That paper points out how Roman (then called WFIRST), combined with the (hopefully) soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, will bring all new observational capabilities online and really step up the search for extrasolar planets.  With luck, in the next decade or so, the planetary science community will have a cornucopia of new potential candidates to look into. 

Learn More:
NASA – NASA’s Roman Mission Predicted to Find 100,000 Transiting Planets
The Cosmic Companion – Could the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope Find 100,000 Planets?
digitaltrends – Upcoming Roman Space Telescope could discover 100,000 new exoplanets
UT – Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Could Get A Starshade Of Its Own
UT – There Could Be More Rogue Planets Than Stars in the Milky Way. Here’s How Nancy Grace Will Find Them

Lead Image:
Artist’s conception of a planetary transit.
Credit: JPL

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Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit – Illinoisnewstoday.com

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Tampa, Florida (WFLA) — SpaceX made history on Wednesday night when it launched the world’s first all-civil mission to get going from the Space Coast, Florida.

The Inspiration4 mission took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center around 8:03 pm on Wednesday. The four crew members on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft were launched onto a reusable Falcon 9 rocket and later separated from the spacecraft and landed on the drone.

The mission’s five-hour launch window began at 8:02 EST. The window was very large, as the crew was sent to orbit the Earth rather than the International Space Station, and therefore did not have such strict time constraints.

The crew is set to travel 350 miles above the surface of the Earth, about 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.

“This is important and historic, because it’s the best time humans have been in orbit since the Hubble Space Telescope mission,” said Benjireed, SpaceX’s manned spaceflight director.

(Photo provided by SpaceX)

The crew will spend three days in orbit to participate in research experiments on human health and performance. We hope that the results of our research will apply not only to future space flight, but also to human health here on Earth.

Inspiration4’s main goal is to provide and inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They want to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude in a three-day mission.

According to SpaceX, each of the four members of the crew was chosen to represent the pillars of a mission of prosperity, generosity, hope and leadership. The Inspiration 4 crew and the pillars they represent are:

  • leadership: 38 years old Jared Isaacman – Founder and CEO of Shift4Payments
  • Hope: 29-year-old Haley Arseno – Doctor assistants and childhood cancer survivors treated with St. Jude
  • Generosity: 41 years old Chris Sembroski – Lockheed Martin US Air Force veteran and aerospace employee
  • prosperity: 51 years old Dr. Cyan Proctor – Entrepreneurs, educators, trained pilots, and the active voice of the space exploration community

SpaceX trained all four crew members as commercial astronauts on Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. The crew was trained in orbital mechanics, microgravity, weightlessness, other stress tests, emergency preparedness, and spacesuit training.

The mission was funded by Isaacman in a private transaction with SpaceX. Isaacman has also invested $ 100 million towards a funding target for the St. Jude mission.

Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit

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'Flying' microchips could ride the wind to track air pollution – Yahoo Movies Canada

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Researchers have created a winged microchip around the size of a sand grain that may be the smallest flying device yet made, Vice has reported. They’re designed to be carried around by the wind and could be used in numerous applications including disease and air pollution tracking, according to a paper published by Nature. At the same time, they could be made from biodegradable materials to prevent environmental contamination. 

The design of the flyers was inspired by spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees. Those fall slowly by spinning like helicopters so they can be picked up by the wind and spread a long distance from the tree, increasing the range of the species. 

The team from Northwest University ran with that idea but made it better, and smaller. “We think we’ve beaten biology… we’ve been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds,” said lead Professor John A. Rogers. “The other thing… was that we were able to make these helicopter flyer structures that are much smaller than seeds you would see in the natural world.”  

They’re not so small that the aerodynamics starts to break down, though. “All of the advantages of the helicopter design begin to disappear below a certain length scale, so we pushed it all the way, as far as you can go or as physics would allow,” Rogers told Vice. “Below that size scale, everything looks and falls like a sphere.”

The devices are also large enough to carry electronics, sensors and power sources. The team tested multiple versions that could carry payloads like antenna so that they could wireless communicate with a smartphone or each other. Other sensors could monitor things like air acidity, water quality and solar radiation. 

The flyers are still concepts right now and not ready to deploy into the atmosphere, but the team plans to expand their findings with different designs. Key to that is the use of biodegradable materials so they wouldn’t persist in the environment. 

“We don’t think about these devices… as a permanent monitoring componentry but rather temporary ones that are addressing a particular need that’s of finite time duration,” Rogers said. “That’s the way that we’re envisioning things currently: you monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve, and disappear, and maybe you have to redeploy them.”

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NASA splits human spaceflight unit in two, reflecting new orbital economy – WION

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NASA is splitting its human spaceflight department into two separate bodies – one centered on big, future-oriented missions to the moon and Mars, the other on the International Space Station and other operations closer to Earth.

The reorganization, announced by NASA chief Bill Nelson on Tuesday, reflects an evolving relationship between private companies, such as SpaceX, that have increasingly commercialised rocket travel and the federal agency that had exercised a US monopoly over spaceflight for decades.

Nelson said the shake-up was also spurred by a recent proliferation of flights and commercial investment in low-Earth orbit even as NASA steps up its development of deep-space aspirations.

Also Read | Cracks on ISS a ‘serious issue’, says former NASA astronaut

“Today is more than organizational change,” Nelson said at a press briefing. “It’s setting the stage for the next 20 years, it’s defining NASA’s future in a growing space economy.”

The move breaks up NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, currently headed by Kathy Leuders, into two separate branches.

Leuders will keep her associate administrator title as head of the new Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, focusing on NASA’s most ambitious, long-term programs, such as plans to return astronauts to the moon under project Artemis, and eventual human exploration of Mars.

Also Read | NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is finding it tougher to fly on Mars

A retired deputy associate administrator, James Free, who played key roles in NASA’s space station and commercial crew and cargo programs, will return to the agency as head of the new Space Operations Mission Directorate.

His branch will primarily oversee more routine launch and spaceflight activities, including missions involving the space station and privatization of low-Earth orbit, as well as sustaining lunar operations once those have been established.

Also Read | NASA’s Hubble Telescope captures massive ‘eye’ of dying star

“This approach with two areas focused on human spaceflight allows one mission directorate to operate in space while the other builds future space systems,” NASA said in a press release announcing the move.

The announcement came less than a week after SpaceX, which had already flown numerous astronaut missions and cargo payloads to the space station for NASA, launched the first all-civilian crew ever to reach orbit and returned them safely to Earth.

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