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Monday, July 15, 2024

NASA to launch artificial star into orbit by 2029

This innovative project will revolutionize the field of astronomy by providing more precise measurements of stellar brightness.

NASA is preparing for a groundbreaking mission, known as the Landolt Mission, which aims to launch an artificial “star” into Earth’s orbit by 2029. This innovative project will revolutionize the field of astronomy by providing more precise measurements of stellar brightness.

Inspiration Behind the Mission

Named after the esteemed astronomer Arlo Landolt, who pioneered stellar brightness catalogs, the Landolt Mission seeks to honor his legacy. Daniel Huber, an associate astronomer and professor at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, highlights Landolt’s influence: “His last name is famous in the whole astronomy community. The Landolt standard star…everyone knows what that is.”

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Mission’s Objectives

The primary goal of the Landolt Mission is to enhance the accuracy of absolute flux calibration of stars. This involves comparing the brightness of the artificial star to natural stars. The artificial star, a satellite outfitted with eight lasers, will orbit the Earth at an altitude of 35,785 kilometers. Though it won’t be visible to the naked eye, it will be detectable with personal telescopes.

Ground Control and Collaborations

Ground control for the mission will be based at George Mason University in Virginia. The mission is a collaborative effort involving institutions like Blue Canyon Technologies and the University of Victoria. Peter Plavchan, the primary investigator and associate professor at George Mason, emphasizes the mission’s innovative approach: “We developed this novel approach that actually borrows from theater. It’s an understudy system, pairing senior project roles on the mission with junior scientists and junior engineers. It’s a true partnership.”

Scientific Impact

Jonathan Gangé, a scientific adviser for the Montreal Planetarium, underscores the mission’s scientific significance: “We always relate to the amount of light stars send us to derive almost everything in astronomy.” By using a satellite with a known emission rate of photons, scientists can compare its brightness with that of stars, leading to more precise measurements and new stellar brightness catalogs.

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The data from the Landolt Mission will have far-reaching implications for various fields of astronomy. Accurate brightness measurements are crucial for understanding the evolution of stars, the composition of exoplanets, and even the properties of dark energy and the universe’s expansion rate. Susana Deustua, a liaison to the mission, notes the importance of these measurements for exoplanet research: “There’s a group of people, the exoplanet experts, who like to make predictions as to where they might see an Earth-like planet, and for them it’s really important to understand the properties of stars.”