Status Report

French Advances in Science and Technology – Issue #314

By SpaceRef Editor
February 20, 2002
Filed under ,


Hubble and its space telescope descendents may some day be looking for work
as the first test images produced by the European Southern Observatory’s
adaptive optics system prove that atmospheric distortion can be corrected
without leaving the atmosphere. The system NAOS (FAST #255, #300) was
recently put into use to record infrared images of Saturn and its rings, and
the results have surpassed expectations in the degree of resolution
obtained. The camera currently hooked up to the NAOS system is an infrared
camera since it is at this end of the spectrum that NAOS’ corrective
capacity is best utilized. The Saturn pictures reveal the complexity of the
planet’s atmosphere and of the makeup of its rings. Astronomers working with
NAOS are optimistic that with a sustained effort an ESO program will by 2008
be ready to locate and observe exoplanets. (Le Figaro, February 13, p13,
Julien Bourdet)


The European Space Agency has just released results from an international
study of the dusty corners of the solar system, and they appear to have
exciting implications for the ESA’s upcoming exoplanet hunt. Poring over
data from the last couple decades of space probes, which contain the first
encounter with bands of dust circulating within the solar system beyond
Saturn, and comparing these readings with more recent ones from the ESA’s
Ulysses solar probe, project scientists concluded that the particles were
larger than interstellar dust. Therefore, the source of the dust is the
solar system itself, probably-concludes the ESA team-collisions among
objects in the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, a collection of icy debris whirling
through the outer solar system. Where there are planets and other orbiting
things there is dust, and the ESA project wants to turn that statement
around and look for dust around other stars as an indication that there are
planets. One idea is for the ESA’s upcoming Herschel mission to conduct
detailed infrared examination of mature stars for signs of a dust ring in
order to establish a short list of likely subjects of further investigation.
The team calculated the density of the solar dust ring as about one particle
per 50 cubic kilometers or enough, they say, to be brightly visible around a
star, especially at infrared lengths. (European Space Agency CommuniquŽ,
February 15)

SpaceRef staff editor.