SETI Alumni: Portrait of Sarah Blunt

SETI Alumni: Portrait of Sarah Blunt
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SETI Institute GPI group from left to right: Eric Nielsen, Franck Marchis, Jasmine Garani, Sarah Blunt, and Clement Chalumeau
SETI Institute GPI group from left to right: Eric Nielsen, Franck Marchis, Jasmine Garani, Sarah Blunt, and Clement Chalumeau (credit: F. Marchis/SETI Institute)

Sarah Blunt, REU student class of 2015, is today a full member of the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey. Together with SETI researcher Eric Nielsen and Franck Marchis, she has developed an innovative method to fit the orbits of directly imaged exoplanets. She has published her work in Astronomical Journal and is a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship that will fund her graduate school. Here her story.

The Next Step in Exoplanetary Science: Imaging New Worlds

In 2003, I was lucky enough to be part of a small group of astronomers that met at the University of California at Berkeley to brainstorm on an innovative idea: the design of an instrument to image and characterize planets around other stars, called exoplanets, using a telescope in the 8 – 10 meter class. A decade later, such an instrument became reality with the arrival of the Gemini Planet Imager (called also GPI, or “Gee-pie”) instrument at the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on the top-right is the only system detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. HR8799 discovery was announced in a Science article in 2008 by a team led by C. Marois including members of the GPI team (credit: C. Marois).
Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on the top-right is the only system detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. HR8799 discovery was announced in a Science article in 2008 by a team led by C. Marois including members of the GPI team (credit: C. Marois).

Asteroid Minerva finds its magical weapons in the sky

The International Astronomical Union has chosen the names Aegis and Gorgoneion for the two moons of the asteroid (93) Minerva.  My team discovered the small moons in 2009 using the W. M. Keck Telescope and its adaptive optics system. We proposed the names after receiving input from the public.

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Artistic view of the Triple Asteroid System (93) Minerva. The 150km primary at the center is surrounded by its two moons S/(93) 1 Aegis and S/(93) 2 Gorgoneion.

Everything you need to know about asteroids at the AGU Fall Meeting

It is this time of the year again… I am convening and chairing a session on Asteroids entitled “Characterizing Small Solar System Bodies” tomorrow Tuesday at the December 9th at AGU Fall Meeting. It will be composed of nine talks presented in the morning and twenty posters Characterizing Small Solar System Bodies in the afternoon.FrontPage_session

How we collaborate with a group of amateur space sleuths to study the triple asteroid (87) Sylvia

I am back from the 45th annual Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Denver, Colorado, where I presented my findings on the study of the triple asteroid system (87) Sylvia through a poster and in a press conference (video here). Located in the asteroid main-belt, we know that (87) Sylvia possesses two moons since our publication in Nature Journal in 2005. Our team  has combined observations from professional-class telescopes and from small telescopes used by amateur astronomers to reveal that this 270-km diameter main-belt asteroid has a complex interior, probably linked to the way the multiple system was formed.

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)

Progress on the GPI exoplanet imager integration

The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a next generation adaptive optics instrument being built for the Gemini Observatory. This is an ambitious project with the goal of directly imaging extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. The instrument is currently being integrated at the University of California at Santa Cruz. After more than a year of testing in a fixed orientation in a clean room, on March 7, 2013, the 2,030 kg instrument was set up on a crane and flexure rig. In collaboration with the UCSC team, we prepared this time lapse video showing GPI being set up in its new position.

GPI instrument being set up on its flexure jig mounting (Credit: GPI consortium)

Another fireball on Jupiter?

An amateur astronomer reported the visual detection of a fireball on Jupiter at 11:35 UT (September 10 2012) last night. It was confirmed on a video recorded from Texas. This is the 6th impact of Jupiter detected so far.

A screen capture from the video recorded on September 10 2012 at 11:35 UT by George. The video was captured with a 12" LX200GPS, 3x Televue Barlow, and Point Grey Flea 3 camera. http://georgeastro.weebly.com/jupiter.html

An ELT made of cardboard in your garden?

I am calling myself a Planetary Astronomer, essentially because I use ground-based telescopes to study our solar system bodies. Even if I often write posts on this blog  about the wonderful results brought to us by space missions, space stations and other space-releated projects, my heart and my work are mostly dedicated to pushing the limit of ground-based telescopes and their instruments. Extremely Large Telescopes (or ELTs), ground-based telescopes with an aperture larger than 30m are without any doubt the next giant leap in the development of astronomy. I always wondered what it would be to be close to one of these giants, now I know…

An Occultation by the double asteroid (90) Antiope seen in California

Last Tuesday July 19 at 3:25am PDT, several SETI REU students and colleagues from SETI institute and Observatoire de Paris were on the road. They were looking at the sky with  tiny telescopes and surrounding by complex instruments somewhere in the middle the Californian countryside to witness and record a rare event: the occultation of a bright 7-mag star by the double asteroid (90) Antiope.