A team led by LASP scientists, engineers, and students has been selected to build a tiny orbiting satellite to study the evaporating atmospheres of gigantic “hot Jupiters”—distant gaseous planets orbiting scorchingly close to their parent stars.
To date more than 100 gas giants have been discovered orbiting very close to their parent stars, said LASP planetary scientist, Kevin France, principal investigator on the four-year, $3.3 million effort funded by NASA. France and his colleagues believe the new study of hot Jupiters—some of which are so close to parent stars they orbit them in a matter of days—will help planetary scientists better understand the evolution of our own solar system.
LASP planetary scientist Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA’s Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet’s faint F ring in 1979.
He followed that up with observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s rings from the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, which carried instruments designed and built at LASP. Now, as the principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, Esposito and his Cassini colleagues are feeling a bit somber as the mission nears its end. The spacecraft has run out of fuel and will disintegrate in Saturn’s dense atmosphere early on the morning of Sept. 15.
By Fran Bagenal, CU-Boulder Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and New Horizons co-investigator
I admit that I love giving presentations on New Horizons to public audiences. It’s the killer combination of Pluto and space exploration. Everyone digs it. The best are astronomy clubs—just bursting with enthusiasm. And my favorite group of all time is the Rocky Mountain Star Stare (RMSS). Based in Colorado Springs, RMSS meets every year on a piece of land close to the Colorado–New Mexico border that is far from city lights. The trek is worth it—the Milky Way blazes across the sky.And these guys have brought along the most amazing astro-geek equipment.
After a decade-long voyage through the solar system, NASA’s New Horizons mission is scheduled to fly by Pluto in July 2015, carrying with it the LASP-built Student Dust Counter (SDC). The New Horizons mission also involves LASP scientists and CU-Boulder students, who await data from the unprecedented approach and close encounter of the dwarf planet and its five known moons.
In preparation for the July encounter, LASP Office of Communications and Outreach staff recently traveled to two rural Colorado communities and delivered Pluto-related programming to students and their families. Accompanying them was Fran Bagenal, LASP planetary scientist, CU-Boulder professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences, and New Horizons mission co-investigator. Bagenal served as the New Horizons and Pluto science expert during the school visits and gave public presentations to both communities.