Exploring the universe

Very Large Telescopes and Extremely Large Telescopes

Just now the in the Atacama desert, on the top of the mountain Cerro Armazones, north Chile. A new generation of land-based optical telescopes is being built. 
It is built by the European Southern Observatory ESO that is a European astronomic organization with several telescopes already located on the southern hemisphere.
In north Chile they already have this generation optical telescopes in operation called Very Large Telescopes VLT. The new generation telescopes will be operational in 2024 and it is called Extremely Large Telescopes ELT. Astronomers imagination is not the best when it comes to the naming of their gadgets, but rest assured that these gadgets will live up to their name.

So how much better will ELT be than VLT? 
Will we be able to make new discoveries about the universe?
Will we be able to find new Earth-like exoplanets with these telescopes?

VLT consist of four large telescopes width a diameter of 8.2 meters. The telescopes are located in a formation. They can work both independently and together. The total mirror surface has a diameter of a 16-meter telescope when they are coordinated. VLT is the largest Telescopes on earth.
Some important discoveries made by VLT telescopes so far has been: 

  • The largest star ever R136A1 about 165000 light years away. It is over twice the size the scientists thought a star could have 
  • For the first time revealed the effects predicted by Einstein's general relativity on the motion of a star passing closed to a black hole.
  • That the young universe was much bluer than it is today and had fewer stars, 
  • First direct image of an exoplanet. A five times Jupiter size planet orbiting a brown dwarf
  • Earth-like planet in our closed star system Proxima Centauri b
  • The discovery of TRAPPIST 1 system 
  • The atmosphere around a super-Earth exoplanet called GJ 1214b, was analyzed mostly gaseous water 

ELT image credit:
ESO/L. Calçada

ELT is an optical reflector telescope. The primary mirror will be 39.3 m in diameter composed of 798 hexagonal segments. The mirror will have a light absorption area of 978 m². Above this huge reflector, there is also a 4.2-meter diameter secondary mirror.

ELT will be much larger than VLT, it will gather 13 times more light. ELT will be able to correct for atmospheric distortions. The telescope will be able to take from earth 16 times sharper images than the Hubble Telescope that is in space.
Consider the impressive resume of VLT and Hubble we will have many existing reports about discoveries when ELT gets fully operational. 
The main task of ELT will be to look for an exoplanet. By measurements of the wobbling movements, stars show because planets orbit around them, but also take direct images of large Jovians. Perhaps it will be possible for the telescope to characterize the atmospheres of the planets, and to take direct images of planets of Earth's size.

Read more at ESO

Barnard stars hidden planetary system

Peter van de Kamp was a  professor of astronomy at Swarthmore College from 1937 until 1972.
Already in the forties, he was looking for exoplanets. He gave lectures on the topic do stars have planets for astronomers groups in the fifties. In 1963 he made a big announcement, that he finally found an exoplanet. A large jovian was orbiting Barnard star with an orbit on 25 years. Barnard star is the closest single star system from earth only six light years away. Only Alpha Centauri a system that consists of three stars and a habitable exoplanet is closer. Barnard star is a very small red dwarf, with only 0.14 the mass of the sun and 15% of the sun's radius. Barnard's star is also a very fast moving star, the fastest on the sky, and in 10000 years it will be the star that is closed to our sun.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

The claimed discovery was made with the wobble method, de Kamp detected with his instruments that it was a periodic distortion in the star motion. Over decades he took thousands of images of the star. Making these measurements this was very hard precision work as the shift in the blurry light of star was tiny as a sand corn, This discovery was, of course, a big sensation at the time de Kamp appeared in many big newspapers and in television shows. Later he also discovered another Jupiter sized planet orbiting the star with an orbit of 12 years. 

Later some skeptical voices about these discoveries were raised from the science community. Astronomer George Gatewood analyzed de Kamps photos and could not make the same conclusions. Other planet discovered around other stars by de Kamp had an identical change of motion, and the anomaly often occurred after the lens was removed or cleaned. Decades later much better instruments could not make the same discoveries as de Kamp did. The discoveries were not real it was errors made with the instruments and in the analysis of data. Van de Kamp did not accept that his life work was wrong and kept defending his research and started to repeat his measurements. Van de Kamp died in 1995 at aged 93 he never found an exoplanet. The first confirmed detection of Exoplanets was a couple years earlier in 1992.

Peter van de Kamp was not really completely wrong about Barnard's star it probably does has a planet.

Last week on 14 November 2018 Ignasi Ribas team at the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and the Institute of Space Sciences, CSIC in Spain. Announced that after careful studies that with 99 percent certainty there is an exoplanet orbiting Barnard star. The planet that was discovered with the wobble method lies around 0.4 astronomical units from the star. The planet is a cold icy super earth with a size 3.2 times earth. The planet is called  Barnard’s star b, and with mean temperatures at -170 C, the planet is likely not habitable. The planet is still not classified as confirmed exoplanet more analysis needs to be made to 100 percent rule out any natural stellar variations. There are also indications that there are other planets further away from the star.


Trappist One a whole planetary system with Earth twins

In the constellation, Aquarius 39 light years away is one of the most important exoplanets system discovered so far, Trappist one.  The solar system has not just one earth-like planet but seven and four of them are in the habitable zone of the star.

The discovery was announced on 22 February 2017. The planets were detected using the transit method as they pass in front of their sun it is possible to measure a recurring decrease in sunlight over time. The planets are very small and the star is bright so it is a very tiny amount of light we are talking about. The scientist was using very advanced instruments to make the discovery. Spitzer Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope was amongst the telescopes used. The light is filtered around the atmosphere of the planet and the molecules will make the light shift in color. That will give information about the composition of the planets. 
Trappist one is a very small brown dwarf just slightly larger than Jupiter but much more massive. The planetary system could also in size be compared with the moon system of Jupiter. The planets are very close to each other. All the planets are orbiting closer there sun than Mercurius and the planets will sometime look larger than the moon and the sky of their neighbor planet. Perhaps aliens of Trappist 1 d is colonizing Trappist 1 e if they have the same technology in space travel like us. 
As the planets are rotating near its sun there are in a tidally locked orbit with one face pointing toward the sun all the time. It is daylight all the time on one side and night all the time on the other. 

The gravitational interaction between the planets is significant. On the time the first planet complete eight revolutions around the sun the second complete five, and the third three, and the fourth two. Their orbits are resonant 

Trappist-1b is in the same size of earth but is very similar to Venus with a very thick atmosphere and it is very hot at the surface.

Trappist-1c the heaviest planet in the system and is also very similar to Venus. It is a rocky planet with a thick atmosphere and too hot for life.

Trappist-1d is the planet that has the largest ESI value amongst the exoplanets. The planet has also a high SPH index, which means that it likely to have vegetation. The planet has a thin atmosphere. It could be enough to keep the climate stable as the planet not rotating around its axis. The planet has about 250 times more water than earth.

Trappist-1e is also very similar to earth it could have liquid water. The zone between day and night is suitable for life. If the planet has enough atmosphere a larger part of the planet can be habitable. 

Trappist-1f same size as the earth but not as dense. The planet has much water but in a gaseous state. The planet is likely not habitable.

Trappist-1g both radius and mass similar to earth and a stable climate. Water has been detected. The planet is cooler than earth but could be habitable.

Trappist-1h the smallest planet in the system with a size between mars and earth. Could contain water and has a temperature similar to the south pole. The planet is outside the habitable zone of the star.

How do we locate stars

Astronomers are using something called sidereal time. Exoplanet hunter is using sidereal time to calculate the position of stars in the sky relative to the user on earth. Earth is rotating one revolution around its axis in 24 hours and 0 minutes in that time the earth has moved approximately one degree on the path around the sun. Therefore relative to the distant stars the earth day is just 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. As the day is shorter the time will back every day so how do we calculate sidereal time?

It could be easily done using this formula[1]:

Where d is the days that passed since new years eve and tUTC is the local mean time. The time is using UTC that is the common time standard across the world. Sidereal time is the time displayed in the star map of the app.

In mathematics and in many applications in physics it is common to use a spherical coordinate system for 3D space instead of a Cartesian (x,y,z) system. the polar angle or the altitude is the angle between the direction where the mobile user is pointing his/her phone at the sky and the xy-plane.

The azimuth angle is the angle between the x and y-axis on the plane and r is the distance from the origin. Expressed in Cartesian coordinates:

When activating the orientation sensors in the phone (GPS sign) the parameters alt (altitude) and az (azimuth) are shown. The angles are based on the Euler angles that describe the orientation of a rigid body, with respect to a fixed coordinate system. Where the point of origin is the user holding the phone. Stars in the sky have fixed coordinates, right ascension, and declination. The point of origin for those coordinates is a point in space. Earth is orbiting the sun and the thought path for that orbit is called the ecliptic. Earth is also rotating within a thought geocentric celestial sphere. The point of origin is where the equator of that sphere is crossed by the ecliptic line. With reference to that point right ascension is the azimuth angle, it is measured within an hour circle from 0 hours to 24 hours. Declination is the polar angle with respect from the same point and, is measured in degrees -90 to 90.

To calculate right ascension and declination for a user could be tricky considering that earth's surface is curved and that Euclidean geometry cannot be applied. The variables in the equations are the user's geographical position and sidereal time. For the interested here comes the formulas[2]. The hour angle h.

Where φ o is the latitude of the observer holding the phone. It is recommended that one is using the two-argument arctangent to compute the arctangent of the quote. Right ascension can now be calculated using the sidereal time.

And the declination can be calculated using the formula:


Gliese 581g the earth twin that disappeared

In the constellation Libra 20 light years there is a star with a interesting and important planetary system. The star called Gliese 581.To find it in the Exoplanehunter app you need to search for the name GJ 581. Gliese 581 a red dwarf and is a third of the mass of the sun.

The first planet that was discovered orbiting Gliese 581 was Gliese 581b in August 2005 a neptunian.

The second planet discovered in the system was Gliese 581c in April 2007. The planet has a mass is bigger than Earth a so called Super Earth.

Gliese 581 c was chosen for the message from Earth. From Ukraine's National Space Agency  a high-powered digital radio signal was sent to the planet in october 2008 it will reach its destination first in 2029. The message contains images of landmarks,famous people like Hillary Clinton and notes written by Bebo members. Later it has been confirmed to be too hot for life.

Another planet was discovered in 2007 in the star habitable zone but much more massive than earth Gliese 581d. Also a message was sent to Gliese 581d. A website "Hello from Earth" run by Cosmos magazine collected messages. The messages were later send from the DSS-43 70 m radio telescope at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, Australia, A study from 2012 concluded that Gliese 581 d  is likely to be an result of stellar activity and does not exist.

In April 2009 the third confirmed planet was reported Gliese 581e that was discovered by an Observatory of Geneva team led by the Swiss astrophysicist Michel Mayor. Gliese 581e has similar size as Earth but is even closer the star than Gliese 581c.

At the end of September 2010, Steve Vogt a astrophysicist from UC Santa Cruz discovered Gliese 581 g he nicknamed the planet Zarmina after his wife. The discovery was a huge sensation at the time as it was the first earth-like exoplanet discovered in the habitable zone of a star.  

If you visit the GJ 581 in the app you will not be able to see the planet. It because the planet has not yet been confirmed and studies from 2014 have shown that the planet probably does not exist. According to PHL Gliese 581 d and g do not exist

  • Gliese 581 c (too hot)

  • Gliese 581 d (does not exist)

  • Gliese 581 g (does not exist)

Researcher Paul Robertson studies concluded as Gliese 581g was detected from Gliese 581d orbit and Gliese 581d was false positive due to stellar activity. Other studies from by a research team led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé in 2015 claims that Gliese d could exist despite the stellar activity and that the data should be reanalyzed.

Hypothetical say that  Gliese 581 g does exist, how similar to earth is the planet and could there aliens? Gliese 581 g is very close to it sun. The planet will not rotate around it axis and always have the same side pointing toward it sun. On one side of the planet it is always day and on the other side always night. The atmosphere i dense and could support life if the planet has liquid water. Temperature between −31 °C and -12 °C or −12 F and 10 F as average could be hot on the day side and the most habitable area on the planet is between the line of day and night.

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