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    NASA Satellite Launched

    On April 18, 2018 the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was launched. TESS is on a two year survey mission that focuses on finding Earth-sized exoplanets. The TESS survey will examine about 85% of the total sky and include about 20 million stars. Among these targets will be a majority of the closest and brightest stars in the visible nighttime sky. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets that range from Earth size up to Gas Giants. To prepare for the launch of TESS, BYU astronomers have been developing robotic telescope facilities with a wide range of apertures to provide follow-up observations of the many new exoplanet candidates. Funding for these efforts was received from the Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium to develop five robotic telescope systems on the newly renovated observation deck of the Eyring Science Center. Photo by Michael Deep/Spaceflight Insider

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    Magnificent Desolation

    The phrase “Magnificent Desolation” was used by Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin to describe his view shortly after he became the second person to step out onto the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. The photo shown here is centered on the relatively young crater Copernicus located just south of Mare Imbrium. This impact crater is 93 km in diameter and approximately 3.8 km deep. The rugged terrain seen here is a reminder of the magnificent desolation that is characteristic of our nearest neighbor in the solar system. This image was secured by Dr. Michael Joner using the 0.9-meter reflector operating at f/11 on site at the BYU West Mountain Observatory just after last quarter phase in early September 2018.

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    H-alpha Photometry

    A recent article that appeared in the Astronomical Journal (Joner and Hintz, 2015, AJ, 150, 204), established a new photometric system based on a pair of filter functions used to measure the strength of the H-alpha line in stars. The paper presented H-alpha and H-beta indices for 136 field and cluster stars that were observed with the 1.2-meter telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory during an 11 year period. The indices were determined from spectro-photometry of the thousands of spectra exposures. The figure to the left shows a relation for normal main sequence stars between the new H-alpha index and the more than 60 year old H-beta index. Color-color plots like this one are useful in surveys to detect objects of astrophysical interest that display emission features of various strengths. These extreme objects are easily seen in a color-color plot. One High Mass X-ray Binary recently observed for a followup study was located at (0.87,1.87) in the color-color plot.

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    Details of the Dumbbell Nebula

    This composite image of the Dumbbell Nebula (known by catalog designations such as M27 or NGC 6853), located in the northern summer constellation of Vulpecula, presents a remarkably detailed view of the planetary nebula that was first discovered by Charles Messier in 1764. The complex shells of gas that are observed in planetary nebulae are in fact the remnants of material lost by an aging star that has collapsed to form a white dwarf. In the case of the Dumbbell Nebula, the expansion rate of the material surrounding the central star indicates that the main portion of the nebulosity is only three or four thousand years old. Noted astrophysical image processor Dr. Robert Gendler has combined image data from the 2.4-meter Hubble Space Telescope, the 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope located near the summit of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai’i, and the 0.9-meter Brigham Young University Telescope at the West Mountain Observatory in Utah to produce a rich and finely detailed image of this well known object. The data from the Hubble Space Telescope provide the small scale detail in the central portions of the nebula. The Subaru Telescope data add to the overall fine detail that is resolved in the nebula. The data from the wide field 0.9-meter Brigham Young University Telescope were secured in the summer of 2010 by BYU astronomers Dr. Michael D. Joner and Dr. C. David Laney. The BYU images provide the majority of the color information and faint details in the outer shells of the nebulosity that were used in the assembly of this intricately detailed image.

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    Confirming Transiting Exoplanets

    The figure shown to the left is from a recent publication in the Astronomical Journal (Oberst, Thomas E., et al., 2017, AJ, 153, 97) that confirms the discovery of a highly irradiated, ultra-short period hot Jupiter in orbit around a distant star. The newly discovered planet has been designated as KELT–16b. The long time series run in the left hand panel that is labeled "Pratt" is from a team of students led by Dr. Denise Stephens using the BYU campus Orson Pratt Observatory. The four multi-color data sets that follow were secured a couple of days later by students under the direction of Dr. Michael Joner at the BYU West Mountain Observatory. These and the other data presented in the paper confirm the sub-stellar mass and other properties of KELT-16b.

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Recently Published Research

Darin Ragozzine et al. recently published an article titled "Predicted Yield of Transits of Known Radial Velocity Exoplanets from the TESS Primary and Extended Missions" in Publications of The Astronomical Society of The Pacific. Click on the image above to read it.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Shadow of a Martian Robot : What if you saw your shadow on Mars and it wasn't human? Then you might be the Opportunity rover currently exploring Mars. Opportunity explored the red planet from 2004 to 2018, finding evidence of ancient water, and sending breathtaking images across the inner Solar System....

This photograph and Description come from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day web site.

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