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Asociación de SETI Institute y Unistellar promete revolucionar astronomía amateur

Cosmic Diary Marchis - July 23, 2017

SETI Institute y organización francesa Unistellar, anunciaron una asociación para comercializar un nuevo telescopio que promete entregar imágenes sin paralelo del cosmo a los astrónomos amateurs y proporcionar la oportunidad de contribuir de forma directa a ciencia de punta.

Nuevo eVscope™ de Unistelar eleva la tecnología de imagen “visión mejorada”  y proporciona tres características únicas nunca antes incluidas en instrumentos compactos para el mercado masivo, gracias a esta asociación.

Observar la nebulosa Messier 27, la galaxia Remolino Messier 51 y la nebulosa del Águila Messier 16 usando el telescopio Unistellar desde el observatorio des Baronnies Provençales, en Francia. Esta imagen puede verse directamente en el lente y una imagen puede generarse posteriormente para almacenarse en la base de datos Unistellas en SETI Institute.

La “visión mejorada” (Enhance Vision) produce imágenes extremadamente precisas y detalladas de objetos astronómicos débiles al acumular su luz y proyectarla en el ocular del telescopio. La tecnología de “visión mejorada” imita la capacidad de recolección de luz de telescopios reflectores más grandes, por lo que entrega imágenes sin precedente de objetos del cielo nocturno que antes no eran accesibles a los astrónomos amateurs.

Detección de campo autónomo (AFD por sus siglas en inglés) apoyada por GPS permite a eVscope ubicar los objetos celestes de interés sin procedimientos complejos de alineación o monturas ecuatoriales caras. Gracias a la ubicación y rastreo inteligente de AFD, los astrónomos expertos y novicios, pueden pasar más tiempo observando y siempre saber con precisión qué es lo que están observando. El sistema también permite ver el nombre de cualquier objeto que el usuario esté observando, gracias a la base de datos de coordenadas de decenas de millones de objetos celestes.

El “Modo de Campaña” es una característica emocionante y revolucionara desarrollada en SETI Institute que toma ventaja de la avanzada tecnología de imagen de los telescopios y permite a los usuarios de todo el mundo participar en campañas de observación para recolectar datos e imágenes de objetos de especial interés para los investigadores. En el “Modo de Campaña”, la información de la imagen se envía de forma automática hacia un repositorio de datos en las oficinas principales de SETI Institute, en Silicon Valley, EEUU. La comunidad científica internacional puede entonces, acceder cantidades sin precedentes de datos de imágenes de objetos específicos, de miles de telescopios alrededor del mundo, en diferentes fechas y horarios. Esto permitirá realizar nuevos descubrimientos y mejorar nuestra comprensión del universo que nos rodea.

“Los telescopios clásicos de última tecnología son herramientas maravillosas para observar los cuatro planetas principales. Pero en general no son muy emocionantes para observar objetos más débiles y distantes, que siguen siendo inaccesibles para los astrónomos amateurs”, comentó Lauren Marfisi, Director Ejecutivo de Unistellar. “Nuestros telescopios revolucionarán la astronomía amateur al permitir a la gente observar en tiempo real, objetos celestes que hasta ahora sólo habían visto en libros o en Internet. Nuestro telescopio compacto de 4.5 pulgadas permite a los observadores ver objetos tan débiles como Plutón, ¡y lograr una sensibilidad equivalente a la de un telescopio de un metro!”.

“Estamos muy emocionados de asociarnos con Unistellar para brindar una avanzada tecnología de imagen a los astrónomos amateurs y permitir una impactante nueva área de investigación mediante ciencia ciudadana global”, comentó el presidente y director ejecutivo de SETI Institute, Bill Diamond. “Las imágenes recolectadas de la red mundial de telescopios, se descargarán automáticamente a nuestra base de datos y serán analizadas por los investigadores usando los más recientes algoritmos de aprendizaje automático, para facilitar nuevos descubrimientos ”.

El telescopio de Unistellar estará disponible en otoño de 2017 para su pre-venta en la campaña de crowdfunding.

Franck Marchis, Científico Senior de SETI Institute y Jefe de Ciencia en Unistellar comparte esta emoción: “eVscope de Unistellar es un nuevo y poderoso instrumento que puede generar información importante sobre eventos transitorios y de interés para los astrónomos, incluyendo supernovas, asteroides cercanos a la Tierra y cometas. Hay un gran beneficio al tener observaciones contínuas del cielo nocturno usando telescopios alrededor del mundo y al coordinar observaciones y enviar alertas para que los usuarios estudien objetos débiles como cometas y supernovas” comentó Marchis. “Otra característica interesante de nuestro “Modo de Campaña” es que los usuarios podrán atestiguar los fenómenos de los que están recolectando datos, en tiempo real”, agregó Marfisi.

Se ha entregado un prototipo del telescopio Unistellar a SETI Institute para probar y desarrollar la red de datos del “Modo de Campaña”. Astrónomos amateurs tendrán oportunidad de ayudar a financiar futuros desarrollos de este dispositivo al comprarlo por menos de $1000 USD en una campaña de crowdfunding que se lanzará en otoño de 2017.

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Acerca de Unistellar SAS

Unistellar reinventa la astronomía popular mediante el desarrollo de Telescopio de Visión Mejorada (Enhanced Vision Telescope™): una innovadora combinación de óptica, electrónica y tecnología propietaria de procesamiento de imágenes, que busca hacer astronomía interactiva. Unistellar se dedica por completo a este objetivo popular, pero su tecnología ya ha llamado la atención de instituciones establecidas como ONERA (agencia aeroespacial francesa) y Drone Imaging.

Acerca de SETI Institute

La misión de SETI Institute es explorar, comprender y explicar el origen y naturaliza de la vida en el universo, y aplicar el conocimiento adquirido para inspirar y guiar generaciones presentes y futuras. Nuestros programas de investigación, educación y divulgación, exploran las maravillas del universo y la emoción de la exploración, así como el goce del descubrimiento para toda la humanidad.

 

De izquierda a derecha: Franck Marchis (CSO y astrónomo de SETI Institute), Arnaud (Presidente y| CTO), Laurent (CEO) y el prototipo de demostración mostrado en Aix-en-Provence, Francia, en junio 2017

SETI Institute-Unistellar Partnership Promises to Revolutionize Amateur Astronomy

Cosmic Diary Marchis - July 22, 2017

The SETI Institute and French startup Unistellar, announced a partnership today to commercialize a new telescope that promises to deliver an unparalleled view of the cosmos to amateur astronomers, and provide the opportunity to contribute directly to cutting-edge science.

Unistellar’s new eVscope™   leverages “Enhanced Vision” imaging technology and now provides three unique features never before offered in a compact mass-market instrument thanks to this partnership:

Observations of Dumbbell Nebula Messier 27, Whirlpool galaxy Messier 51 and the Eagle Nebula Messier 16 using a Unistellar telescope from Observatoire des Baronnies Provençales, France. This observation can be seen by the user directly in the lens and an image can later be generated for storage in the Unistellar database at the SETI Institute.

Enhanced Vision produces extremely sharp, detailed images of even faint astronomical objects by accumulating their light and projecting it into the telescope’s eyepiece. Enhanced Vision technology mimics the light gathering capability of significantly larger reflector telescopes, thus delivering unprecedented views of night-sky objects previously inaccessible to amateur astronomers.  

Autonomous Field Detection (AFD) powered by GPS, enables the eVscope to pinpoint celestial objects of interest without complicated alignment procedures or expensive equatorial mounts.  Thanks to AFD intelligent pointing and tracking, astronomers from novice to expert, can spend more time observing and always know precisely what they are looking at. This system is also able to name any object the user is observing, thanks to a coordinates database of tens of millions of celestial objects.

 Campaign Mode, a revolutionary and exciting feature developed at the SETI Institute, takes advantage of the telescope’s advanced imaging technology and allows users around the world to participate in observing campaigns to image and collect data on objects of special interest to researchers.  In Campaign Mode, image data is automatically sent to a data repository at the SETI Institute’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The international scientific community can then access unprecedented volumes of image data for specific objects, from thousands of telescopes around the world, at different dates and times. This in turn, can enable new discoveries and enhance our understanding of the universe around us.

“Classical high-end telescopes are wonderful tools for observing the four main planets. But they are generally disappointing for viewing fainter and more distant objects, which remain inaccessible to amateur astronomers,” said Laurent Marfisi, Unistellar CEO. “Our telescope will revolutionize amateur astronomy by allowing people to see in real time, celestial objects that until now have only been available as images in books or online. Our compact 4.5-inch telescope allows observers to see objects fainter than Pluto and achieve sensitivity equivalent to a one-meter telescope!”

 “We are extremely excited to partner with Unistellar to bring advanced imaging technology to amateur astronomy and thus enable impactful new research through global citizen science,” said SETI Institute President and CEO Bill Diamond.  “Images collected from the worldwide network of telescopes will be automatically downloaded to our database and analyzed by researchers using the latest machine-learning algorithms to facilitate new discoveries and detect new events.”

Unistellar’s telescope will be available in Fall 2017 for its presales crowdfunding campaign

Franck Marchis, Senior Scientist at the SETI Institute and Chief Science Officer at Unistellar, shares that excitement: “Unistellar’s eVscope is a powerful new instrument that can generate important data about transient events of interest to astronomers, including supernovae, near-Earth asteroids, and comets. There is much to be gained from continuous observations of the night sky using telescopes spread around the globe, and by coordinating observations and sending alerts to users in order to study faint objects like comets or supernovae” said Marchis.  “Another exciting feature of our Campaign Mode, is that our users will be able to witness the phenomena they are collecting data for, in real time,” added Marfisi.

 A prototype of the Unistellar telescope has been delivered to the SETI Institute for testing and development of the Campaign Mode data network. Amateur astronomers will have a chance to help fund further development of the device by purchasing it for less than $1000 in a crowdfunding campaign set to launch in the Fall of 2017.

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About Unistellar SAS

Unistellar is reinventing popular astronomy through the development of the Enhanced Vision Telescope™: a smart combination of optics, electronics, and proprietary image-processing technology that aims to make astronomy interactive. Unistellar is completely dedicated to its popular ambition, but its technology has already garnered attention from established institutions like ONERA (the French aerospace agency) and Drone Imaging.

 About SETI Institute

The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and to apply the knowledge gained to inspire and guide present and future generations. Our research, education and outreach programs explore the wonder of the universe and celebrate the excitement of exploration and the joy of discovery for all humankind.

From left to right: Franck Marchis (CSO and SETI Institute astronomer), Arnaud (Chairman and CTO), Laurent (CEO) and the demo prototype shown at Aix-en-Provence, France in June 2017

Media Contacts:

SETI Institute

Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
Email: rmcdonald@seti.org
Phone: 650-960-4526

Unistellar:
Laurent Marfisi
CEO
Email: press@unistellaroptics.com
+33 6 77 98 01 20

Science Contact:
Franck Marchis
Senior Astronomy at SETI Institute & CSO at Unistellar
Email: fmarchis@seti.org
Phone: +1 510 599 0604

L’institut SETI et Unistellar s’associent pour révolutionner l’Astronomie et la Science Citoyenne

Cosmic Diary Marchis - July 21, 2017

19 juillet 2017 Mountain View, Californie, Etats Unis et Meyreuil, France — L’Institut SETI et la start-up française Unistellar annoncent aujourd’hui un partenariat, dans le but de commercialiser un nouveau télescope offrant aux astronomes amateurs une qualité d’observation du ciel sans précédent, ainsi que l’opportunité de contribuer de façon déterminante aux dernières découvertes des astronomes professionnels.

Unistellar’s telescope will be available in Fall 2017 for its presales crowdfunding campaign.

 

L’eVscopeTM (Enhanced Vision Telescope) d’Unistellar atteint cet objectif grâce à trois fonctions qui n’ont jamais encore été rassemblées au sein d’un appareil compact et destiné au grand public:

La Vision Amplifiée, qui fournit des images exceptionnelles, fines et détaillées des objets astronomiques les plus lointains en accumulant la lumière et en la projetant directement dans l’oculaire du télescope. La technologie de la Vision Amplifiée remplace la capacité qu’ont les grands télescopes à accumuler la lumière, et fournit ainsi à l’oculaire de l’eVscope des images du ciel jusqu’à présent inaccessibles aux astronomes amateurs.

La Reconnaissance Automatique du Champ (RAC), accélérée par positionnement GPS, qui permet à l’eVscope de localiser les objets célestes à observer sans procédure d’alignement compliquée et sans onéreuse monture équatoriale. Grâce au guidage intelligent et au suivi automatique offerts par la RAC, l’astronome amateur, qu’il soit novice ou expert, passe plus de temps à observer et sait toujours précisément dans quelle direction il pointe. Cette technologie peut aussi nommer chaque objet présent dans le champ d’observation grâce à une base de données contenant les coordonnées de plusieurs dizaines de millions d’étoiles.

Et le Mode « Campagne d’Observation », une fonction révolutionnaire et passionnante développée avec l’Institut SETI. Il s’agit d’exploiter la technologie d’imagerie de l’eVscope pour proposer à ses utilisateurs, partout sur la planète, de participer à des campagnes d’observation de façon à collecter des données d’intérêt majeur pour les scientifiques. Une fois ce mode activé, les images du ciel collectées par les utilisateurs sont envoyées automatiquement sur une base de données située au siège de l’Institut SETI dans la Silicon Valley. La communauté scientifique internationale aura alors accès à un volume de données sans précèdent, provenant de milliers de télescopes répartis sur la planète, prises à des dates et à des heures différentes. Cela permettra de faire de nouvelles découvertes, et d’améliorer notre compréhension de l’univers qui nous entoure.

Observation of the Eagle Nebula Messier 16 using a Unistellar telescope from Observatoire des Baronnies Provençales, France. This observation can be seen by the user directly in the lens and an image can later be generated for storage in the Unistellar database at the SETI Institute

« Les télescopes haut-de-gamme conventionnels sont des outils extraordinaires pour admirer les quatre planètes principales, mais ils sont souvent limités pour observer les objets plus distants ou moins lumineux, qui restent hors d’atteinte pour les astronomes amateurs », constate Laurent Marfisi, co-fondateur d’Unistellar. « Nous pensons que notre télescope peut révolutionner l’astronomie amateur, car il permet aux gens d’observer à l’oculaire et en temps réel des objets du ciel qu’ils ne voient d’habitude que dans les livres ou sur Internet. Bien que très compact avec son diamètre de 114mm, notre télescope permet d’observer des objets moins lumineux que Pluton, et d’atteindre des sensibilités équivalentes à celle d’un télescope d’un mètre ! »

« Nous sommes extrêmement enthousiastes à l’idée de collaborer avec Unistellar afin d’apporter les dernières technologies d’imagerie à l’astronomie amateur et d’explorer de nouveaux domaines de recherche grâce à la science citoyenne ! » se réjouit Bill Diamond, président de l’Institut SETI. « Les images collectées par ce futur réseau mondial de télescopes seront automatiquement transférées sur nos bases de données et analysées par des chercheurs utilisant les derniers algorithmes de « machine learning » pour faciliter les découvertes de nouveaux objets célestes. »

Franck Marchis, chercheur à l’Institut SETI et responsable scientifique d’Unistellar, partage cet enthousiasme : « L’eVscope d’Unistellar est un nouvel instrument puissant, capable de fournir des données importantes sur les évènements transitoires d’intérêt pour les chercheurs, comme les supernovæ, les astéroïdes proches de la terre et les comètes. Nous avons beaucoup à gagner à observer le ciel de façon continue avec un réseau mondial de télescopes, et en coordonnant les observations en envoyant des alertes aux utilisateurs pour étudier des objets diffus comme les comètes et les supernovæ », selon Franck Marchis. « Un autre aspect révolutionnaire du Mode « Campagne d’Observation » est que les astronomes amateurs participants seront à la fois acteurs et témoins de la découverte scientifique qui découlera de leurs observations, et cela en temps réel » ajoute Laurent Marfisi.

Un prototype de l’eVscope a déjà été reçu par l’Institut SETI pour tester et enrichir le mode « Campagne d’Observation ». Les astronomes amateurs pourront aussi participer financièrement au développement de l’eVscope lors d’une campagne de financement participatif qui sera lancée en automne 2017. L’eVscope y sera proposé à moins de 1000€, et les livraisons sont prévues pour mi-2018. Il sera également exposé à l’IFA Berlin du 1er au 6 septembres 2017.

De gauche à droite: Franck Marchis (Directeur scientifique et Astronome professionnel à l’Institut SETI), Arnaud (Président et Directeur Technique), Laurent (Directeur Général), avec un prototype de démonstration à Aix-en-Provence en Juin 2017.

A propos de l’Institut SETI

La mission de l’Insitut SETI est d’explorer, de comprendre et d’expliquer l’origine et la nature de la vie dans l’univers, et d’exploiter ces connaissances dans le but d’aider les générations présentes et futures. Nos programmes de recherche, d’enseignement et de vulgarisation scientifique visent à explorer les mystères de l’univers, et à susciter l’enthousiasme du public pour la recherche et le plaisir de la découverte.

http:///www.seti.org

A propos d’Unistellar

Unistellar réinvente l’astronomie amateur à travers le développement du Télescope à Vision Amplifiée (Enhanced Vision TelescopeTM), qui combine optique, électronique et traitement d’images pour rendre l’observation du ciel plus belle, plus accessible et plus interactive. Rendre l’astronomie plus populaire auprès du grand public est le premier objectif d’Unistellar, mais la technologie embarquée dans ses télescopes a déjà attiré l’attention d’institutions reconnues comme l’ONERA, et vise d’autres applications comme l’imagerie par drones.

http://unistellaroptics.com/fr/

Contacts medias:

SETI Institute Rebecca McDonald Director of Communications Email: rmcdonald@seti.org Phone: +1 650-960-4526   Unistellar Laurent Marfisi Directeur Général Email: press@unistellaroptics.com +33 6 77 98 01 20   Contact scientifique Franck Marchis Senior Astronomy at SETI Institute & Directeur Scientifique d’Unistellar Email: fmarchis@seti.org Phone: +1 510-599-0604

Westward moving

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - July 17, 2017


A Piece of Mars: No great scientific insights today, just a really lovely view of bright TARs and some very dark sand in this 0.875×0.5 km (0.54×0.31 mi) scene. Only one major wind acts in this region, moving sediment toward the west. Jezero crater, a prime landing site candidate for the Mars 2020 rover, lies 50 km to the west, so some of the sand blown into that crater passed through this area at some point in the past. (HiRISE, ESP_050899_1985, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Experimenting with 3D views

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - July 13, 2017


A Piece of Mars: I often use JMARS to visualize Mars data sets, especially images. They’ve recently updated their 3D layer, allowing folks to make lovely vistas by overlaying DTMs with images. I’m new at this, but I’ll experiment and see what I can do to make nice views. Here’s a series of barchan dunes marching away from a tall stack of layers in Becquerel crater, with no vertical exaggeration. (HiRISE, DTEEC_045140_2015_044784_2015, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Reversing slip faces

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - July 10, 2017


A Piece of Mars: This 523×750 m (0.32×0.47 mi) scene shows a large dune. It’s quite colorful for some reason, although it’s partially false-color. What caught my eye is that the slip face on this dune has reversed direction, which is somewhat rare on Mars (but common on Earth). The main sand-moving wind blows from the right, forming a long avalanching slope (you can see long bright lines of grain fall slips at the lower center). But at some point a wind blew from the left, forming a small slip face in the opposite direction. Although many other wind directions have also help to build this dune, those two are the main winds apparent here. (HiRISE ESP_050887_2225, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

The real tetrahedrons of Mars

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - June 19, 2017


A Piece of Mars: The real tetrahedrons of Mars are dunes, built by winds blowing sand from more than one direction. This 0.5×0.5 km (0.31×0.31 mi) area shows a dune formed from two winds that are about 90 degrees apart: one blowing from the bottom and one blowing from the right. This makes the dune have two slip faces, which is a rare occurrence on Earth dunes. (Earth dunes are complicated by superposed secondary dunes that interfere with and obscure this pattern. Or if they’re small enough to not have those secondary dunes, then they are changing fast enough that one slip face will quickly erase the other. I’ve only ever seen two slip faces at once for very short periods in Earth dunes – they don’t last.) Here, the two winds have worked together to form a little spit of sand off to the upper left. The result is a 3-sided “pyramid”, with no advanced civilization required for its construction. (HiRISE ESP_050479_1360, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona).

The thinnest landslides

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - June 15, 2017


A Piece of Mars: In the dustiest regions of Mars, steep slopes occasionally produce very thin avalanches of dust, revealing a darker surface under the top layer of dust. This shows one that is 610 m (0.38 mi) long, running from its tiny point of initiation near the top of the slope down to the bottom of the slope where accumulated landslides have slowly buried old windblown dunes (or TARs). These landslides occur every spring, and may be triggered by sublimation of small accumulations of winter ice, or perhaps by the wind. This one formed some time between May 7, 2012 and May 22, 2013, as it appeared between two successive images of this spot. It’s still there today, most recently imaged on May 5, 2017, slowly accumulating dust until it fades into the background with the rest of the slope. (HiRISE ESP_035307_2115, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Dunes fighting for survival

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - June 05, 2017


A Piece of Mars: Having a bad day? You’re in good company with these dunes in this 0.96×0.48 km (0.6×0.3 mi) scene. The gray barchanoid dunes are covered in ripples, as the wind valiantly tries push the sand to the dune crests. But they are besieged by other processes at work. Dark scribbles show how dust devils have swept by, removing dust and probably scattering a little bit of the sand. The steep slip faces are not covered in dry avalanches typical of active dunes, but rather they appear eroded, as if some force locked the dune in place and started eroding the surface wherever ripples couldn’t rescue it. Splotches on the tan ground between the dunes, and narrow furrows attest to seasonal ice reworking the surface. And in this great battle, what I wonder is: can those dunes have formed like this amidst such turmoil, or are they relics of an older, windier, perhaps less icy age? (HiRISE ESP_050488_1150, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Weird and wild southern polar dunes


A Piece of Mars: This 0.96×0.48 km (0.6×0.3 mi) scene shows a bit of a south polar dune field. The more recently-active dark sand is rippled, but there are bright splotches where something else has happened. Presumably it’s ground ice that sublimated away explosively, as happens at many high latitude locations on Mars, only here the dunes are stabilized enough that those spots aren’t eroded away by wind activity every summer. Because the dunes aren’t active, their crests have diminished to subtle bumps on the landscape (would you even know they were dunes if I hadn’t told you? Look at the whole HiRISE image to be sure!) (HiRISE ESP_013224_1080, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Is it an old fossil barchan dune?


A Piece of Mars: There are many barchans on Mars, those lovely isolated crescent-shaped dunes. In a few places there are what looks like ancient preserved barchans, now lithified. The mound in the center of this 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.33 mi) scene shows what may be an example of a fossil barchan. If so, then this is quite unusual. On Earth, dunes are very rarely preserved in their full form, usually having been at least partially eroded away before being preserved. I love how much geology is visible from orbit on Mars! (HiRISE ESP_049955_1665, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Sand tails


A Piece of Mars: Up on the tallest volcanoes, the wind screams downhill at night. This 500x500m (0.31×0.31 mi) scene shows how dust is carried downhill, but only that which is trapped behind boulders and crater rims sticks around. The big hole may be a window into a lava tube. Formation of the window itself is one of the younger events to have formed this landscape, as the screaming dust hasn’t fully filled in the hole (although it has begun the process and formed a tailing wind streak). (HiRISE ESP_050089_1660, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

SETI Alumni: Portrait of Sarah Blunt

Cosmic Diary Marchis - May 05, 2017

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.

Every year the SETI Institute hosts several interns who work with our researchers through a Research Experience for Undergraduates (or REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation. We often wonder what happened to those students, several years after they come to work with us in our HQ here in California.

Sarah Blunt is one of these interns who joined the Institute in 2015. Her application was one of the 200 we received every year for 12-15 internships. Sarah was a bachelor student at Brown University studying to get a major in mathematical physics. In her application she wrote about her previous experience in research at the National Solar Observatory and at her university, her emerging skills in programming in Python and her interest in one of the proposed internships related to the analysis of orbits of exoplanets and brown dwarfs discovered with the Gemini Planet Imager. Senior researcher Franck Marchis and SETI postdoctoral fellow Eric Nielsen were thinking of new ideas to fit the orbits of directly imaged extra-solar planets (or exoplanets) and needed a skilled student in math and computer science to implement those innovative algorithms.

Sarah started her internship in June 2015 under the supervision of Eric Nielsen and quickly showed the potential of these algorithms. After her internship, she continued to work with the SETI exoplanet group on fitting orbits of recently discovered planets and brown dwarfs and joined the GPI Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) collaboration as an official member. Her work was so successful that she was including an article published in 2015 describing the preliminary orbit of 51 Eri b, the only known Jupiter-like exoplanet discovered with GPI. In summer of 2016, she came back to California to work with Prof. Bruce Macintosh, principal investigator of the GPIES collaboration, at Stanford University. In January 2017, she presented the new algorithm, called OFTI (Orbits For the Impatient) at the AAS meeting 229 in Grapevine, TX. She is the first author of a peer-reviewed article article, accepted to the Astronomical Journal, which describes the algorithm and its potential.

Sarah Blunt and her colleagues at the AAS Meeting in 2017  (credit: Sarah Blunt)

Today, Sarah so loves her work in the booming field of exoplanets that she has decided to pursue a PhD in Astrophysics, instead of Mathematics or physics as she had in mind before her REU. We are very proud to announce that she has been accepted to several graduate schools and she is also the recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. No doubt she has a bright future ahead of her, and we hope that her story will inspire several of you to apply to the SETI REU program and to consider a career in the field of astrophysics.

 

Sarah Blunt at Gemini South Telescope in Chile where she participated to a GPI observing run (credit: Sarah Blunt).

 

Sarah’s experience as an REU student at the SETI Institute

-Could you let me know what motivated you to apply to the SETI REU program? Did you apply to any other ones?

- The summer before I did the SETI REU, I did a different REU at the National Solar Observatory in New Mexico. I really liked my project in solar physics, and I was interested in exploring other research in astrophysics. I chose to apply for seven REU programs that “sounded interesting” by scrolling through the NSF website and asking around. I actually think that my boyfriend found the SETI REU program and suggested that we both apply! I remember really liking the idea of the project you and Eric posted on the REU homepage, and thinking that it sounded like something I would be good at. The skills you listed as prerequisites for the summer project were very similar to the skills I had developed over my first two years in college, and I wrote most of my application essay about why I should do that particular project. 

I was offered two summer positions: one at CU Boulder doing more solar physics work, and one at SETI. In the spirit of exploration, I decided to try something new and go with the SETI REU!

– Could you let me know if what capacity this REU program has helped you to become a scientist?

- The SETI REU helped me to become a scientist in several important ways. First, it exposed me to a lot of interesting science, both through seminars and other formal events and by providing me with a community of peers working on a wide variety of projects. I learned so much just by discussing projects with the other REU students over dinner! Second, the REU forced me to work on my science communication skills, notably my public speaking abilities through the journal club and final talk series, and my scientific writing through the final report. Doing the SETI REU also paved the way for me to break into the world of scientific publishing, and I got plenty of experience with the process of writing and publishing science shortly after the REU ended! Finally, the SETI REU enabled me to participate in real science, and to learn about the process of coming up with project ideas, executing the ideas, reworking/revising, and publishing/communicating the work. I feel like a much more independent and knowledgable scientist after working with the GPI team for the past two years, and I owe that all to the SETI REU!

 Any anecdote, story, special memories related to the REU that you would like to share with us?

Not sure if this is a “publishable” story, but over the week that the REU students stayed in Lassen National Park, Jill Tarter, a few of the other REU students (Rosa Diaz, Kaley Brauer, Shannan Acedillo), and I caught a mouse together! It had been living in Kaley’s bed at our place next to the ATA. We spent about an hour running around the house together in pajamas, then finally cornered it and put it outside. There’s an amazing picture of us in PJs holding a Tupperware with the mouse somewhere. That is a very fun memory! How many people can say that they’ve caught a mouse in PJs with Jill Tarter? 

Curiosity, recovering from the Bagnold dunes campaign


A Piece of Mars: You’ll probably want to click on this image to see the whole thing, it’s pretty big, and it’s worth seeing. This 850×550 m (0.53×0.34 mi) scene shows the barchanoid dunes of the Bagnold dune field, imperceptibly crawling southwestward (to the lower left). This is the site where the Curiosity rover first encountered an active dune in its trek through Gale crater. This image was taken after the rover’s intensive field campaign of the two dunes in the upper middle of the frame – the rover is in fact in this frame (extra credit if you can find it!), but it’s backed off a bit from the dunes, and it’s sitting on some old sandstone (that we now know was also once a dune field, long ago, much like some of the sandstones we find on Earth). This image was taken in March 2016; the rover has since moved on and across the dune field, and is slowly working its way through the foothills of Mount Sharp.

I chose this image in tribute to a colleague who unexpectedly passed away last week. He worked on both the HiRISE and Curiosity teams, so it’s fitting to show both here, near the dunes that he studied. He’s best known for his work on dune migration and surface erosion on Mars. He also mapped and measured wind-carved stones called ventifacts (we have those on Earth too), and discovered that the ventifacts here in Gale crater were carved (probably long ago) by a wind blowing from the southwest, which is opposite the direction that the dunes are being blown today! There must have been quite a remarkable shift in wind patterns since those stones were carved, and it remains a mystery. Our dear colleague will be greatly missed.

A Piece of Mars: Get out your red and

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 24, 2017


A Piece of Mars: Get out your red and cyan glasses to see an old crater, which fills this 0.775×0.7 km (0.48×0.43 mi) scene. The crater punched through many thin layers when it formed, some of which you can still see in around the rim. The crater is filled with many small dunes called transverse aeolian ridges (TARs), given this laborious and generic name because they aren’t quite like dunes we find on Earth and we don’t yet understand what they are. The TARs are common in this area, but there are even more here, where sand is swept into and then trapped inside this deep bowl. (HiRISE PSP_008735_1700_PSP_007878_1700, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

A change of fluids

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 17, 2017


A Piece of Mars: Water carved this ~800 m (0.5 mi) wide channel billions of years ago. The water dried up, and since then it’s been sand that flows through here (from the right), building up lovely dunes. A single crater on one of the dunes indicates that they’re not very active (dunes of this type on Mars all seem to be inactive, unlike their bigger, darker cousins). Look closely between the dunes and you might see a few little dots – these are boulders that have fallen, weathered out from the channel walls. (HiRISE ESP_022693_1530, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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

Cosmic Diary Marchis - April 13, 2017

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.

During Cassini’s deepest dive through the Enceladus plume, NASA-funded scientists discovered hydrogen gas in the material erupting from the Saturnian moon. Is there life down there? (Image Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Hunter Waite, a researcher at the Southwestern Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, is the lead author of a paper describing the findings in an upcoming issue of Science. In the piece, the team explains that the molecular hydrogen (H2) content was measured using Cassini’s INMS instrument, a mass spectrometer capable of sniffing the molecular composition of gas that it captures.

During its last flyby of Enceladus on October 28, 2015, the spacecraft grazed the moon’s southern pole at 8.5 kilometers per second, just 49 kilometers above the surface. It crossed the active region where jets spew material from the ocean that we know is located below the icy surface. On three previous flybys, scientists had managed to measure the composition of the jets’ material, and detected molecules of water, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia. During the October 2015 flyby, they used the instrument in a mode they hoped would allow them to measure the content of hydrogen molecules in the gas of the vents.

They succeeded—Cassini detected molecular hydrogen.

This is important because the gas is used by microorganisms, known as methanogens, to produce methane from carbon dioxide. Thriving ecosystems seen in the deep oceans of our planet near the volcanic hydrothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic ridge, for instance, depend on the production of energy using this chemistry.

The scientists are very careful when discussing the origin of this molecular hydrogen. They show that the high concentrations measured are not compatible with a geological origin—in other words, such a large amount of molecular hydrogen couldn’t have been stored in the ice shell or in the ocean. Similarly, the scientists are confident that strong radiation on the surface of Enceladus can’t be the source of this molecular hydrogen.  They conclude its source is probably hydrothermal reactions between water and rock, emerging out of active volcanism, as it happens in submarine hydrothermal systems on Earth. The source of this volcanism on Enceladus is still not fully understood, but it is probably related to tidal dissipation in the moon’s core, which is squeezed and warmed as the satellite orbits the gas giant Saturn. As with Europa, a moon of Jupiter, this heat warms up the interior, creating an ocean with hydrothermal activity and surface fractures from which materials can escape in space.

Deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the bottom of the mid-Atlantic ridge when methanogenic-based ecosystems thrive. Similar conditions may exist in the bottom of the ocean of Enceladus. (NOAA Photo Library).

It must be emphasized that the scientists did NOT report the detection of life in Enceladus’ ocean, but rather the detection of molecular hydrogen—the final piece needed to infer the presence of methanogenesis. A model including the characteristics of the ocean (temperature, pH, mixing ratio and composition) supports the idea that methanogenic life could survive in this environment. But thermodynamic models alone are not enough to claim that life is indeed present on Enceladus. In other words, “habitable” does not mean “habited,” and this distinction is important for astrobiologists.

A targeted flyby of Enceladus occurred shortly after this one, on December 19, 2015. The team is probably analyzing more data, but it is not clear that the spacecraft’s INMS instrument was used again to collect observations. With the end of the Cassini mission scheduled for this September, the next step in the study of Enceladus and the understanding its habitability would probably be the design of a mission dedicated to the study of the satellite and the analysis of its jets.

A mission concept called JET was proposed in the last NASA Discovery round of proposals but was not selected. This latest discovery may reactivate interest in sending a spacecraft dedicated to the study of this small (272-kilometer-radius) moon of Saturn. Enceladus and its warm hydrothermal vents could be the place where we one day find life. Microbiological life, most likely, but life—and I for one would be extremely happy with that.

Clear skies,

Franck Marchis

Two directions

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 10, 2017


A Piece of Mars: Sometimes I just want to show the interior of a dune field, because it’s full of waves: ripples and dune crests, slip faces, all of which signs of movement. The dunes in this 0.67×0.47 km (0.41×0.29 mi) view have been made by two winds: one blowing from the top of the frame, and a more-recently-active one blowing from the right. Together, these two winds (and gravity) push this sand between a series of hills and down into Coprates Chasma, one of the longest canyons on Mars. (HiRISE ESP_035278_1655, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

What the Hack

ENCORE  A computer virus that bombards you with pop-up ads is one thing. A computer virus that shuts down a city’s electric grid is another. Welcome to the new generation of cybercrime. Discover what it will take to protect our power, communication and transportation systems as scientists try to stay ahead of hackers in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse.

The expert who helped decipher the centrifuge-destroying Stuxnet virus tells us what he thinks is next. Also convenience vs. vulnerability as we connect to the Internet of Everything. And, the journalist who wrote that Google was “making us stupid,” says automation is extracting an even higher toll: we’re losing basic skills. Such as how to fly airplanes.

Guests:

•   Ray Sims – Computer Technician, Computer Courage, Berkeley, California

•   Eric Chien – Technical Director of Security Technology and Response, Symantec

•   Paul Jacobs – Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm

•   Shankar Sastry – Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, director of TRUST

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•   Nicholas Carr – Author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the forthcoming “The Glass Cage”. His article, “The Great Forgetting,” is in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

 

First released November 11, 2013.

Skeptic Check: Evolutionary Arms Race

ENCORE It’s hard to imagine the twists and turns of evolution that gave rise to Homo Sapiens. After all, it required geologic time, and the existence of many long-gone species that were once close relatives. That may be one reason why – according to a recent poll – one-third of all Americans reject the theory of evolution. They prefer to believe that humans and other living organisms have existed in their current form since the beginning of time.

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But if you’ve ever been sick, you’ve been the victim of evolution on a very observable time scale. Nasty viruses and bacteria take full advantage of evolutionary forces to adapt to new hosts. And they can do it quickly.

Discover how comparing the deadly 1918 flu virus with variants today may help us prevent the next pandemic. Also, while antibiotic resistance is threatening to become a major health crisis, better understanding of how bacteria evolve their defenses against our drugs may help us out.

And the geneticist who sequenced the Neanderthal genome says yes, our hirsute neighbors co-mingled with humans.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

•   Svante Pääbo – Evolutionary geneticist, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, author of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

•   Ann Reid – – Molecular biologist, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Oakland, California

•   Martin Blaser – Microbiologist, New York University School of Medicine, member of the National Academy of Sciences, author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

•   Gautam Dantas – Pathologist, immunologist, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University, Saint Louis

First released March 31, 2014.

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