Saying Hello to Pluto from San Francisco with the eVscope

Observing Report #2 – September 25, 2017

A few days ago we announced the direct imaging of Pluto through the eyepiece of a Unistellar eVscope prototype located in Marseille, France. To make sure that this was not a fluke, I decided to try to observe Pluto from San Francisco— more precisely, from my little backyard in the middle of the city. And we succeeded!

Animation showing two observations of the same area of the sky taken with Unisteller’s eVscope. The dwarf planet Pluto (cyan circles) is moving with respect to the stars. The green circle shows the location of a cosmic ray that hit the detector during the recording of one frame.
Animation showing two observations of the same area of the sky taken with Unisteller’s eVscope. The dwarf planet Pluto (cyan circles) is moving with respect to the stars. The green circle shows the location of a cosmic ray that hit the detector during the recording of one frame.

Seeing Pluto With Your Own Eyes From Your Backyard With Unistellar’s eVscope

One of the biggest challenges in popular astronomy is finding specific objects in the night sky. Most nebulae, galaxies, and asteroids are invisible to the naked eye, and locating them in the immense vastness of space has frustrated people for centuries.

Picture taken with a cellphone in the eyepiece of the telescope. The green circle labels the position of Pluto, which is visible.
Picture taken with a cellphone in the eyepiece of the telescope. The green circle labels the position of Pluto, which is visible.

That’s why most amateur astronomers follow a common but frustrating path. They buy a telescope, look at the moon, a few bright stars, and five planets—and then just give up. After only a few months of use, those telescopes go up for sale on eBay or into the basement.

Unistellar is determined to change this. Our new eVscope’s Autonomous Field Detection (AFD) feature will allow novice astronomers to find noteworthy celestial objects without performing complicated alignment procedures. Thanks to AFD’s intelligent pointing and tracking, astronomers can spend more time observing and less time wondering what they’re looking at. You’ll always know exactly what you’re seeing.

Another smoking gun in the search for life in Enceladus’ ocean

This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Today, NASA-funded scientists announced a major new step in the search for life on Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, thanks to new data collected by the NASA/ESA Cassini mission.

Enceladus has attracted a lot of interest because it has an active pole that spews jets of material into outer space. During its last flyby over that pole, an instrument on board the Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of a biomarker—molecular hydrogen. This suggests that the ocean we know lies beneath the moon’s surface could indeed contain an ecosystem similar to the ones we find in deep-sea hydrothermal vents on Earth.

Abscicon 2015 in Chicago: Finding Habitable Worlds and Life Beyond the Solar System

What could the near future hold for detecting habitable, and eventually inhabited, extrasolar planets?

That’s the question we asked together with my colleagues Victoria Meadows, A. Mandell and Margaret Turnbull. To this purpose we organized a session for the Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 (#abscicon2015) held at Chicago on June 15-19 entitled “Finding Habitable Worlds and Life Beyond the Solar System”. The goal of our session was to provide a venue to discuss the prospective in the near future to detect habitable extrasolar planets.

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AGU Fall Meeting 2014: Solar System Small Bodies: Relics of Formation and New Worlds to Explore

Can you believe it is December already!? As usual, it is a busy month with the AGU Fall Conference.  I co-organized a session on small solar system bodies with Padma Yanamandra-Fisher (PSI)  and Julie Castillo (JPL).  We will talk about recent discoveries in this emerging field including the discovery of rings around Chariklo, the understanding of regolith motion on asteroids, the new lander for Hayabusa 2 (MASCOT) and off course adaptive optics observations of asteroids. Below more info. See you there!

Where: Thursday, December 18, 2014 01:40 PM – 03:40 PM
When: Moscone West 3002

Why: The composition and physical properties of Small Solar System Bodies (SSSBs), remnants of the formation of planets, are key to better understand the origins of our solar system and their potential as resources is necessary for robotic and human exploration. Missions such as ESA/Gaia, NASA/OSIRIS-REx, JAXA/Hyabusa-2, NASA/Dawn and NASA/New Horizons, to study asteroids, comets, dwarf planets and TNOs are poised to provide new in situ information. on SSSBs.  Recent remote observations of bright and main belt comets; asteroid Chariklo, with its ring system; asteroid and KBO binaries illustrate that the distinction between comets and asteroids is blurred, providing a new paradigm for such classification. This session welcomes abstracts on the remarkable results bringing information on the internal structure and composition of SSSBs based on space and ground-based data, numerical models, as well as instrument/mission concepts in theprospect of future exploration.

Artistic representation of the triple asteroid system showing the large 270-km asteroid Sylvia surrounded by its two satellites, Romulus and Remus. The differentiated interior of the asteroid is shown through a cutaway diagram. The primary asteroid of the system may have a dense, regularly-shaped core, surrounding by a fluffy or fractured material. The two moons are shown to be strongly elongated, and composed of two lobes, as suggested by the recently observed occultation data by the satellite Romulus. (credits: D. Futselaar & F. Marchis)
Artistic representation of the triple asteroid system showing the large 270-km asteroid Sylvia surrounded by its two satellites, Romulus and Remus. The differentiated interior of the asteroid is shown through a cutaway diagram. The primary asteroid of the system may have a dense, regularly-shaped core, surrounding by a fluffy or fractured material. The two moons are shown to be strongly elongated, and composed of two lobes, as suggested by the recently observed occultation data by the satellite Romulus. (credits: D. Futselaar & F. Marchis)

House Hearings Fail to Tap NASA’s Full Potential

Yesterday the  U.S. House of Representatives  Subcommittee on Space held a hearing entitled “Exploring Our Solar System: The ASTEROIDS Act as a Key Step Planetary science“. I was curious about this act and expected the hearing to focus on interesting new ways to motivate private companies to design, launch, and operate space missions, and further the study of our Solar System.

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Five witnesses at the House Hearing on “Exploring Our Solar System: The ASTEROIDS Act as a Key Step Planetary science”

Des mondes similaires au nôtre cachés dans des centaines d’exoplanètes ? SETI PR en Francais

Communiqué de presse de l’Institut SETI et de CASCA
Monday, June 09 2014 – 12:15pm, PDT

Mountain View, CA –
Cette année a été intense pour les chasseurs d’exoplanètes, ces planètes autour d’autres étoiles. Une équipe d’astronomes de l’Institut SETI et du centre de recherche de la NASA Ames a découvert 715 nouvelles exoplanètes enfouies dans les données du télescope spatial Kepler. Ces nouveaux mondes qui tournent autour de 305 étoiles différentes, constituent des systèmes planétaires multiples, similaires a notre système solaire, lui-même constitué de huit planètes. L’annonce de cette découverte a été suivie par une nouvelle encore plus importante dans le monde de l’astronomie : la même équipe a annoncé la découverte de Kepler 186f, une planète de la même taille que la Terre qui tourne autour de son étoile dans la zone dite habitable. Cette decouverte constitue une étape essentielle vers la détermination de l’existence de planètes de type Terre dans la Voie Lactée.

Une vue artistique décrivant les systèmes planétaires découverts par le télescope spatial Kepler. Crédit: NASA
Une vue artistique décrivant les systèmes planétaires découverts par le télescope spatial Kepler. Crédit: NASA

54 years of space exploration: an updated map that you must see

National Geographic asked 5W Infographics to update its 50 Years of Exploration graphic, a classic that I use often in my talks to illustrate our space exploration program and its focus on the inner part of the solar system.

The updated version, renamed “Cosmic Journey“, is spectacular, better organized and easier to follow than its predecessor. It has been updated to include new missions sent over the past 4 years. The new color code includes the paths of failed, as well as successful, missions and also the nation that led them.

Cosmic Journey by Sean McNaughton, Samuel Velasco, 5W Infographics, Matthew Twombly and Jane Vessels, NGM staff, Amanda Hobbs. Source: NASA, Chris Gamble.
Cosmic Journey by Sean McNaughton, Samuel Velasco, 5W Infographics, Matthew Twombly and Jane Vessels, NGM staff, Amanda Hobbs.