Newswise — Canada's first space telescope is allowing astronomers to see in unprecedented detail how stars shake and spin. The Canadian Space Agency mission is the first scientific satellite to be launched by Canada in over thirty years, and it's shaking up the way astronomers think about stars, and putting a new spin on the life story of our own Sun.
The first results from the MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars) satellite include the detection of a strong pulse in a young adult star called eta Bootis, and a bad case of stellar "acne and hyperactivity" in a "pre-teen" version of the Sun, a star known as kappa 1 Ceti. These data offer a unique perspective on what our own Sun may have been like in its youth.
"All this talk of stellar pulses and hyperactivity must sound like ER Meets Star Trek," admits MOST Mission Scientist Dr. Jaymie Matthews of the University of British Columbia, "but we really are doing diagnostic check-ups of stars at different points in their lives, by placing them under intensive observation for weeks at a time." Matthews presented the findings today in a keynote address to the annual meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society in Winnipeg hosted by the University of Manitoba.
These are ambitious results from a Canadian-built and -operated orbiting observatory which is no bigger than a suitcase yet can monitor the brightnesses of stars with unmatched precision and thoroughness. MOST was launched into orbit last summer and has been collecting data for the last few months. Because of its small size, MOST has been dubbed the "Humble" Space Telescope in comparison with its larger American cousin, the Hubble Space Telescope.
"MOST is a major advance in the way astronomers study stars, made possible by innovative Canadian technology," notes Canadian Space Agency President, Dr. Marc Garneau. "It is the world's most precise light meter, capable of recording variations as small as one ten thousandth of a percent in the brightness of a star."
How small is that? "If all the lights in all the offices of the Empire State Building were on at night," explains Garneau, "you could dim the total light by that amount - one ten thousandth of a percent - if you simply pulled just one window blind down only one centimetre."
From its vantage point in polar orbit, 820 km high, the tiny MOST space telescope can stare at stars without interruption for up to eight weeks at a time. No other observatory or network of telescopes, including the Hubble, can do this. The unique combination of precision and time coverage enables MOST to look for subtle vibrations in stars that will reveal secrets hidden beneath their surfaces. It also gives MOST the best chance to detect light directly from planets outside our Solar System, studying their atmospheres and weather.
Dynacon Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, is the prime contractor for the MOST satellite and its operation, with the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) as a major subcontractor. The University of British Columbia (UBC) is the main contractor for the instrument and scientific operations of the MOST mission. MOST is tracked and operated through a global network of ground stations located at UTIAS, UBC and the University of Vienna.
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