Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mang gets a space telescope!

Stumble Upon Toolbar
Last year the team responsible for Canada's very successful space telescope, MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of STars), opened the door to the public to propose stars to be studied (see My Own Space Telescope).

MOST packs a lot of power in a very small package. It has the ability to detect the tiniest variations in the light of other stars and track them over long periods of time. It has been used for astroseismology and to detect planets and maybe even asteroids[1] orbiting other stars (see The Science of Most)! There is even a "singing star" called Eta Bootis.
Today the Science team announced two successful proposals (see Amateur Astronomers Win Time on Canada’s MOST Space Telescope ). These were Gordon Sarty a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) and myself! Congratulations Gordon!

I picked Betelgeuse (see this NASA Images page on Betelgeuse for more information). It's a celebrity. As one of the largest, brightest and best known stars in our sky, it holds a lot of fascination. All of our Cubs and Scouts know it!

Here are some Betelgeuse facts:
  • Betelgeuse is a monster, a Red Supergiant. If Betelgeuse were here, we'd be inside it!
  • It pulsates semi-regularly, swelling up and down vast distances (think of the orbits of Mars and Jupiter) over a 5-6 year period.
  • It was the first star outside our solar system to have its disk photographed.
  • It has had truly massive spots on its face.
  • Despite the vast size of Betelgeuse, it weighs less than 30 times our own Sun and has been described as a red hot vacuum (1/10,000th of an atmosphere on average).
  • Unlike our own Sun, it's chromosphere extends many times the diamater of its photosphere. Think of the orbit of Neptune!
  • It will likely die in a supernova explosion. Possibly in the relatively near future. It's too far away (> 400 LY) and pointed the wrong way to hurt us. But when it does explode, it will likely be brighter than the Moon and possibly visible in the day.
  • The now closed McLaughlin Planetarium had a scale model of a number of stars at the base of the stairs going to the theatre dome. The Sun was pea sized about 1/3". Betelgeuse (or a segment of it) was on the floor and over 15' in diameter!
  • Our little Sun would not be visible from Betelgeuse!
  • It would be easy to believe Betelgeuse is the largest star in our galaxy. It isn't. It's just the best known big star!
I'm sure Betelgeuse holds many secrets, what can we find out about them?
  • Could it have exoplanets and could we detect them?
  • What is the nature of its variability and massive spots?
  • Might we get a better idea of its mass, age and when it might explode?
  • What might we learn anything of about our own Sun and it's possible fate?
There are lots of reasons to study Betelgeuse and perhaps MOST can answer some of these questions. I'm excited to see if we can find out the answers. I'm sure the Cubs and Scouts will be too.

Update: If I read this correctly they may have found a Trojan asteroid swarm around HD 209458b see Searching for asteroids around another star. Why is this not very big news?

Other Related: Astronomical distances are .... (well) astronomical

1 comment:

Gordo said...

Congratulations, Mang. This will be interesting to see unfold.