LSU students design a lunar camera | News

Louisiana State University astronomers are leading a collaborative science observation program that will provide new images and information from across the moon.

LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy assistant professors Tabetha Boyajian and Matthew Penny have recruited a team of students who are working on the design of the first moon-based camera, or L-CAM1, which aims to be launched in 2024.

“Giving early-career students the opportunity to design a cutting-edge space science program to be operated on the lunar surface is a wonderful and unique opportunity to support the progression of tomorrow’s leading astronomers and astrophysicists,” Boyajian said.

L-CAM1 is a collaboration between AstronetX PBC, a public benefit corporation dedicated to exploratory research from space, and faculty and students from LSU, Mississippi State University, and the SETI Institute. The AstronetX L-CAM1 instrument is designed to acquire cosmic images for research spanning astrophysics, planetary science and planetary defense.

“Working on L-CAM has been a dream come true for me. I’ve been an astronomer since I was 13, and now I’m developing the science program for a lunar surface telescope,” said LSU L-CAM1 graduate student science team member Farzaneh Zohrabi.

“This is a cutting-edge science project, which starts with talking with the engineers and discussing how the different camera designs being considered will influence the data we’re going to capture. One unique thing we plan to do with L-CAM is to make very precise measurements of nearby bright stars and their exoplanets. This is something that cannot easily be done using ground-based telescopes on Earth due to the atmosphere and saturation limits,” Zohrabi said.

“AstronetX is pleased to have helped students gain hands-on, early-career experience in planning a space mission to perform frontier science observations from the lunar surface,” said Robert Lasky, chief operating officer of AstronetX. ‘AstronetX.

Science program planning was funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to AstronetX, with additional support for student participation provided by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at LSU .

“Our team of students gained first-hand experience of mission evolution and had the opportunity to plan a science program from scratch,” Boyajian said.

“It started by leveraging their diverse backgrounds to examine potential scientific cases for a lunar surface-based observatory. The team also had to deal with and respond to the kinds of real-time, real-world challenges that occur during the design phase of the mission. This forced them to learn how to think flexibly and react dynamically to changes. This experience will serve them well throughout their careers,” Boyajian added.

Starting with developing an understanding of the advantages and limitations of a lunar observatory, two main scientific cases were selected for the observing program: improving the characterization of previously known exoplanets and the observation and characterization of asteroids. .

Observations from space allow high-precision measurements of changes in the parent star’s brightness as an orbiting exoplanet passes briefly in front of the star. Brightness changes can be from a few percent for large exoplanets, to less than 100 parts per million for rocky exoplanets similar in size to Earth.

Working continuously for one lunar day, or approximately 14 Earth days, L-CAM1 data will have long, uninterrupted observation sequences of exoplanet transit events, allowing scientists to target specific systems and capture new data. which can be used to determine the properties of the two exoplanets and their host stars.

About 200 asteroids will be observable by L-CAM1 on a multi-lunar day mission, including about one near-Earth asteroid per month. The combination of the length of the lunar day and the stable platform provided by the lunar surface will allow precise observations of position, or astrometric, and luminosity, or photometric, to determine the physical properties and orbits of these small bodies of the solar system.

“Our team of students first needed to create simulations of the portion of lunar sky that L-CAM1 will see during the multiple lunar days of the mission in order to determine visible astrophysical and astronomical targets. One of the unique advantages that L-CAM1 will provide is the uninterrupted duration that individual subjects can be observed,” said Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at the Carl Sagan Center of SETI.

“My goal started with determining where we should be looking using the Stellarium planetarium and other software to model the night sky. This allowed us to come up with a list of host stars and candidate exoplanets for observation. said Connor Langevin, a member of the L-CAM1 undergraduate science team studying at LSU. “More recently, I have begun to identify the observability of near-Earth asteroids. This involves determining the field of view of L- CAM at specific times and match it with specific asteroids that will be visible.

“L-CAM has several advantages. The lack of atmosphere on the lunar surface, compared to ground-based telescopes for deep space science, will provide a higher level of precision, there will be longer windows of continuous observation due to the lunar day of two weeks, and we will be able to observe areas closer to the sun than we can from Earth,” said LSU L-CAM1 postdoctoral science team member Jonas Kluter.

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