NASA News:Keck Telescopes Gaze into Young Star’s “Life Zone”

The inner regions of young planet-forming disks offer information about how worlds like Earth form, but not a single telescope in the world can see them. Yet, for the first time, astronomers using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii have measured the properties of a young solar system at distances closer to the star than Venus is from our sun.

“When it comes to building rocky planets like our own, the innermost part of the disk is where the action is,” said team member William Danchi at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Planets forming in a star’s inner disk may orbit within its “habitable zone,” where conditions could potentially support the development of life.

To achieve the feat, the team used the Keck Interferometer to combine infrared light gathered by both of the observatory’s twin 10-meter telescopes, which are separated by 85 meters. The double-barreled approach gives astronomers the effective resolution of a single 85-meter telescope — several times larger than any now planned.

“Nothing else in the world provides us with the types of measurements the Keck Interferometer does,” said Wesley Traub at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “In effect, it’s a zoom lens for the Keck telescopes.”

In August 2008, the team — led by Sam Ragland of Keck Observatory and including astronomers from the California Institute of Technology and the National Optical Astronomical Observatory — observed a Young Stellar Object (YSO) known as MWC 419. The blue, B-type star has several times the sun’s mass and lies about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. With an age less than ten million years, MWC 419 ranks as a stellar kindergartener.

The team also employed a new near-infrared camera designed to image wavelengths in the so-called L band from 3.5 to 4.1 micrometers. “This unique infrared capability adds a new dimension to the Keck Interferometer in probing the density and temperature of planet-forming regions around YSO disks. This wavelength region is relatively unexplored,” Ragland explained. “Basically, anything we see through this camera is brand new information.”

The increased ability to observe fine detail, coupled with the new camera, let the team measure temperatures in the planet-forming disk to within about 50 million miles of the star. “That’s about half of Earth’s distance from the sun, and well within the orbit of Venus,” Danchi said.

For comparison, the planets directly detected around the stars HR 8799, Fomalhaut and GJ 758 orbit between 40 and 100 times farther away.

The team reported temperature measurements of dust at various regions throughout MWC 419’s inner disk in the Sept. 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. Temperature differences help shed light on the inner disk’s detailed structure and may indicate that its dust has different chemical compositions and physical properties, factors that may play a role in the types of planets that form. For example, conditions in our solar system favored the formation of rocky worlds from Mars sunward, whereas gas giants and icy moons assembled farther out.

In turn, the astronomers note, the size of the young star might affect the composition and physical characteristics of its dust disk. The team is continuing to use the Keck Interferometer in a larger program to observe planet-forming disks around sun-like stars.

Gaidos E, Haghighipour N, Agol E, Latham D, Raymond S, & Rayner J (2007). New worlds on the horizon: Earth-sized planets close to other stars. Science (New York, N.Y.), 318 (5848), 210-3 PMID: 17932279

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About bruceleeeowe
An engineering student and independent researcher. I'm researching and studying quantum physics(field theories). Also searching for alien life.

7 Responses to NASA News:Keck Telescopes Gaze into Young Star’s “Life Zone”

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  3. Mark Louis says:

    Video was good! Does it reflect some thoughts on formation of new planets?

  4. Pingback: Trackback

  5. T. J. Barlow says:

    The telescope has been everything that I expected of it. The only thing it lacks is a barlow lens. The 2 included eyepieces work well, and viewing is easily tracked via the red-light. Assembly was not difficult, but I question how this will hold-up over time — dragging it in and out of the house. We shall see!

  6. S. Brown says:

    I was a complete beginner when I bought this scope and a relative newbie now. I bought the scope because I was fascinated with developing astronomy as a hobby, but reluctant to spend a fortune in case I lost interest. I also knew that you needed a scope with a reasonable appeture to stand any chance of seeing anything. The 114 seemed to fit the bill then.

    First time out we aimed it at the moon and were blown away at the detail of the craters even with the lowest magnifications. Next time we tried to find Saturn and mars and spent a couple of hours to no avail. However, I persevered and have now been able to see saturn (with it’s rings clearly visible) and, last night Jupiter and it’s dour moons (just being able to make out the colour of the northern equatorial belt). Still haven’t been able to find any nebulae or galaxies despite being pretty confident of their location, but will keep trying.

    My biggest piece of advice for those struggling would be download some software like stellarium (free and awesome) to help you with location.

    In summary, people are right… It is pretty flimsy and not the best scope, but you get your moneys worth. For me it has been an excellent choice because it’s made me want to see more, in more detail and now I know I won’t be wasting my money when I can eventually afford a decent computer aided scope with a bigger appeture… For the patient beginner on a budget you can’t go wrong… Just don’t expect to see images like the Hubble produces on a £100 scope.

  7. Charlene says:

    I bought this telescope with the idea to use to see the moon with it, and maybe do a little bird watching, and things like that. Well, it came with some nice software to track the planets and stars with. The software is far more interesting than the telescope, and it gave me false hope that this telescope was good for seeing some of the larger planets, maybe. It works fine during daylight hours, but at night there is not enough light, even when focused on a street light! The tripod fell apart the second day. I have yet to be contacted by customer support at […] I do not think the listed price at the store of $200 for this model was accurate. Perhaps it is time to return it and get my money back.

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