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EDDINGTON TO SEEK OUT QUAKING STARS AND DISTANT PLANETS.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 May 2010 19:49
Published on Thursday, 24 February 2005 00:00


Some of the leading British, European and American experts on stars and extra-solar planets will be speaking at a one-day RAS meeting which is being held on Friday, 11 January 2002.  The meeting, entitled "Stellar Seismology, Extra-solar Planet Finding and the Eddington Mission", will take place in the Scientific Societies Lecture Theatre, 23 Savile Row, London W1 between 10.00 and 15.30 hours.


Members of the media are invited to attend the meeting. No pre-registration is required, but it would be helpful if advance notice of attendance is given to the  RAS press officer, Peter Bond, or to one of the organisers. There may be  opportunities for interviews during the morning registration period and the lunch  session.

****  Scientists from more than 40 European laboratories, including eight in the UK,  are currently working to develop an ambitious European Space Agency mission  named Eddington.

There are two main goals for Eddington. One is to discover and study Earth-like  planets around distant stars. The other is to measure small internal vibrations of  stars to determine their internal structure.

Peering beneath the scorching hot surfaces of stars would seem impossible, but scientists have discovered that these giant balls of gas vibrate as shock waves  pass through them. Although oscillating stars have been observed from the  ground, very much smaller variations can be detected from space. Using a  technique known as asteroseismology, astronomers will be able to use these  vibrations to find out about the interiors of stars.

"It's just like the technique geologists use on Earth ," explained Professor Ian  Roxburgh (QM-UL), one of the organisers of the RAS meeting. "By studying  seismic (earthquake) waves, they are able to find out about the Earth's internal  structure."

"In the case of Eddington, we spend several months measuring as accurately  as possible the light outputs of certain stars," he said. "These long time sequences  can be used to reveal the internal oscillations of the stars and tell us what they are like inside."

"These studies will help us to understand the evolution of stars (including our  Sun) and galaxies, as well as improve our methods of measuring ages and stellar distances," he added.

At present, more than 70 extrasolar planets are known, but most of these are  larger than Jupiter, the king of our Solar System, and hundreds of times bigger than the Earth. The challenge for the future is to discover small, Earth-like,  rocky planets that may be able to support life.

Using a wide-field photometer, consisting of a 1.2 metre diameter telescope  with a CCD camera, Eddington will search for the small amount of dimming observed when a planet passes in front of a star. By studying approximately  500,000 stars, this could result in the discovery of perhaps 20,000 planets -  of which 100 or so would be expected to be Earth-like worlds located in the  temperate, habitable zones around their stars.  

"We can calculate the orbital period of the planet, and so determine its orbital  distance, by measuring the time interval between each transit," explained  Professor Roxburgh.  

"The depth of the eclipse - the amount of dimming - tells us how much of the  star has been covered and so indicates the size of the unseen planet," he  added. "Since we known the properties of the star, we can also calculate  whether the planet lies in the so-called 'Habitable zone' - neither too hot nor  too cold for life."

Eddington is not the only spacecraft with a mission to seek out Earth-like  planets. NASA's recently announced Kepler observatory will also be using the transit method to detect planets crossing the line-of-sight between the planet's  parent star and the observer. Dr. William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research  Center, principal investigator for Kepler, will be describing this exciting mission  at the RAS meeting.

Members of the media interested in extrasolar planets may also wish to attend  the RAS Monthly (Ordinary) Meeting which begins at 16.00 in the Scientific  Societies Lecture Theatre, when Dr. Jane Greaves of the UK Astronomy  Technology Centre in Edinburgh will be presenting a paper entitled "Disks and planets around nearby stars".

NOTES FOR EDITORS:  

Eddington is named after the famous British astronomer Arthur Eddington  (1882-1944), whose researches provided new insights into the processes  taking place in the interiors of stars.

The spacecraft is designated a "reserve" mission by the European Space  Agency, with a possible launch date of 2007.

The 8 UK institutions involved in the Eddington mission are:Queen Mary,  University of London; Rutherford Appleton Laboratory; University of Cambridge; University of Central Lancashire; University of Leicester; Imperial College London;  Mullard Space Science Laboratory/University College London; and St Andrews  University.  Kepler is a recently selected NASA mission. Launch is scheduled for 2006.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE RAS MEETING, CONTACT THE  ORGANISERS:

Professor Ian Roxburgh, Queen Mary University of London,  Mile End Road,  London
E1 4NS  Tel: 020 7882 5441E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. Alan Penny, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory,  Chilton,  Didcot,  OXON  OX11 0QX  Mobile: 07-941-721-733  E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

IMAGES AND FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE EDDINGTON MISSION AT:  http://sci.esa.int/home/eddington/index.cfm 
 
THE FULL PROGRAMME OF THE MEETING IS ON THE RAS WEB SITE: http://www.ras.org.uk

 

Issued by:
Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer (Space Science).  10 Harrier Close, Cranleigh,
Surrey, GU6 7BS, United Kingdom.
Phone: +44 (0)1483-268672 Fax: +44 (0)1483-274047
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.