NASA, gravitational microlenses and artificial intelligence to hunt down floating exoplanets

NASA, gravitational microlenses and artificial intelligence to hunt down floating exoplanets


Exoplanet hunters have found thousands of planets, most in orbit near their host stars, but relatively few alien worlds have been detected that float freely through the galaxy like so-called rogue planets, not tied to any stars. Many astronomers believe that these planets are more common than we know, but that our planet-hunting techniques have not been up to the task of locating them.

Most exoplanets discovered to date have been found because they produce slight dips in the observed light of their host stars as they pass through the star's disc from our point of view. These events are called transits.

NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will conduct an investigation to discover many other exoplanets using powerful techniques available for a wide-field telescope. The stars in our Milky Way galaxy are moving and random alignments can help us find rogue planets. When a floating planet aligns precisely with a distant star, this can cause the star to shine. During such events, the planet's gravity acts as a lens that briefly magnifies the background star's light. NASA's telescope can find rogue planets through this technique, called gravitational microlensing, but there is a disadvantage: the distance to the lens planet is poorly understood.

Goddard scientists are now developing a mission concept called the Contemporaneous LEnsing Parallax and Autonomous TRansient Assay (CLEoPATRA) to exploit the effects of parallax to calculate these distances. Parallax is the apparent shift in the position of a foreground object seen by observers in slightly different positions. Our brain exploits the slightly different views of our eyes so that we can also see depth.

Artistic illustration of one of the exoplanets of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech The CLEoPATRA concept would also support the PRime-focus Infrared Microlensing Experiment (PRIME), a terrestrial telescope currently equipped with a camera using four detectors developed by the Roman mission. The mass estimates for the microlensing planets detected by both Roman and PRIME will be significantly improved by the simultaneous parallax observations provided by CLEoPATRA.

In order to efficiently find these planets, CLEoPATRA completed a study of the Mission Planning Laboratory at the Wallops Flight Facility in early August, will use artificial intelligence. Dr. Greg Olmschenk, a postdoctoral researcher working with Barry, has developed an artificial intelligence called RApid Machine learnEd Triage (RAMjET) for the mission.

“I work with certain types of artificial intelligence called networks neural, ”Olmschenk said. “It's a kind of artificial intelligence that will learn through examples. So, you give him lots of examples of the thing you want to find, and the thing you want him to filter, and then he'll learn how to recognize patterns in that data to try and find the things you want to keep and the things you want to throw away. "

Eventually, the AI ​​learns what it needs to identify and will only send important information. By filtering this information, RAMjET will help CLEoPATRA to overcome an extremely limited data transmission speed. CLEoPATRA will have to look at millions of stars every hour or so, and there is no way to send all that data to Earth. Therefore, the spacecraft will have to analyze the data on board and send only the measurements for the sources it detects to be microlensing events.

Australian-built rover to head to moon in 2026 in joint mission with NASA

a close up of a rock: NASA said the deal with Australia broadens the coalition of countries that is supporting humanity © Shutterstock NASA said the deal with Australia broadens the coalition of countries that is supporting humanity's return to the moon under the Artemis program.

An Australian-made rover will explore the Moon as early as 2026 in the country's first foray into lunar exploration.

Australia has signed a deal with NASA to develop a small rover that will have the ability to pick up lunar rock and dust and bring it back to a moon lander operated by NASA.

The lunar soil, or regolith, is expected to contain oxygen in the form of oxide and -- using separate equipment -- NASA will aim to extract oxygen from the samples. 'This is a key step towards establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, as well supporting future missions to Mars,' the Australian government said in a statement.

The agreement, which includes a contribution of 50 million Australian dollars ($37 million), is part of Australia's Moon to Mars initiative.

'This is lunar history for Australia. We're going to see Australian businesses, researchers, design and build a rover that's going to go to the moon and do some interesting science,' Enrico Palermo, head of the Australian Space Agency, told Australia's 'Today' breakfast television show.

Palermo said Australia is 'at the cutting-edge of robotics technology and systems for remote operations, which are going to be central to setting up a sustainable presence on the Moon and eventually supporting human exploration of Mars.'

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the deal with Australia broadens the coalition of countries that is supporting humanity's return to the moon under the Artemis program.

'By working together with the Australian Space Agency and our partners around the world, NASA will uncover more discoveries and accomplish more research through the Artemis program,' Nelson said in a statement.

The goal of Artemis is to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024 -- although that deadline may not be feasible because of problems with spacesuits, an August report by the NASA watchdog warned.

Artemis relies on partnerships, both international and commercial, to create a sustainable and lasting presence of humans on and around the moon, with the goal of eventually using lessons learned from Artemis to land the first people on Mars.

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