First detection of super-Earth atmosphere
For the first time, astronomers have analyzed the atmosphere of an exoplanet in the class known as super-Earths. Using data gathered with the Hubble Space Telescope and new analysis techniques, the exoplanet 55 Cancri e is revealed to have a dry atmosphere without any indications of water vapor. The results indicate that the atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen and helium.
Using observations made with the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on board Hubble, the scientists were able to analyze the atmosphere of this exoplanet. This makes it the first detection of gases in the atmosphere of a super-Earth. The results allowed the team to examine the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e in detail and revealed the presence of hydrogen and helium, but no water vapor. These results were only made possible by exploiting a newly-developed processing technique.
NASA seeks to purchase cubesat buses
NASA has issued a request for proposals to purchase as many as five cubesat buses that the agency says will be used to demonstrate new technologies while also stimulating the emerging smallsat industry.
The request for proposals for NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator project, issued Feb. 12, calls for buying one six-unit cubesat bus, with options for four more, that NASA will use for flight tests of advanced smallsat technologies under development at the agency.
The request for proposals calls for a “state of the art satellite that would require little, or preferably no new technology development for the bus sub-systems,” allowing NASA to add technology demonstration payloads to it. The first cubesat would fly a low-thrust propulsion system, with future missions incorporating propulsion, communications or attitude control technologies.
The next big gravitational waves experiment is now getting started in space
LISA Pathfinder represents the first phase of a complementary effort to search for gravitational waves in space. While this particular experiment isn’t expected to detect gravitational waves during its months-long science operation, the spacecraft is testing fundamental technologies that will allow us to scale up to a large, space-based gravitational wave observatory. Freed from the spatial constraints and noisy bustle of a small planet, scientists hope to cast a wider net for gravitational waves in space, searching for the shockwaves caused by the violent collision of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.
The release of LISA Pathfinder’s two test masses is the first step toward all of that glorious science. The 1.8-inch (46 mm) gold cubes are separated by a mere 15 inches (38 cm). Between them sits a laser interferometer, which will attempt to measure their position with precision of up to about a hundred millionth of a millimeter. If that can be done, we’ll have a shot at watching the test masses bob, like surfers on a swell, as gravitational waves sweep through our solar system.
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