A note from Ian Jordan (Space Telescope Science Institute) passes along the welcome news that presentations and webcasts from last week’s Astrophysics Enabled by the Return to the Moon 2006 workshop at STScI have been posted online (available here). There’s plenty to dig into here, but of specific note for exoplanet research are the presentations by Webster Cash, Maggie Turnbull, Sara Seager and Peter McCullough.
Centauri Dreams readers have read about all four of these scientists in the past year or so. Maggie Turnbull (Carnegie Institution of Washington) specializes in identifying stars that may have terrestrial planets around them. In an earlier post, we looked at some of her picks. Sara Seager (also at Carnegie) is particularly known for her work on HD 209458B, a hot Jupiter that transits its star and thus offers up much useful data. And Peter McCullough (Space Telescope Science Institute) is getting remarkable results from the XO telescope in Hawaii, collaborating with amateur astronomers looking for transits. They’ve already found a Jupiter-class planet around a Sun-like star in Corona Borealis.
As for Cash (University of Colorado at Boulder), he’s well known here for his work on the New Worlds occulter that holds so much promise for direct imaging of distant planets. Although New Worlds was not chosen in the latest round of Discovery mission studies, Northrop Grumman continues to pursue New Worlds as avidly as Cash himself, having backed the original concept of flying the mission in tandem with the James Webb Space Telescope. That idea may now be on hold, but Northrop Grumman’s Amy Lo is working to prove that New Worlds will work just as well with a smaller telescope (interestingly, Hubble is not up to the job for orbital reasons, as this article explains).
A starshade in the form of a flower-petal has a certain aesthetic appeal even beyond the numerous studies that show it to be good science. Odds are strong that New Worlds will work, and at a fraction of the cost of what Terrestrial Planet Finder had been evolving toward. Tens of meters across and made of kapton (similar to mylar), the shade may represent our best bet for direct detection of Earth-like worlds, which makes Cash’s comments at the STScI workshop well worth your time.