This week on HST

HST Programs: November 10 - November 16, 2008

Program Number Principal Investigator Program Title Links
11103 Harald Ebeling, University of Hawaii A Snapshot Survey of The Most Massive Clusters of Galaxies Abstract
11113 Keith S. Noll, Space Telescope Science Institute Binaries in the Kuiper Belt: Probes of Solar System Formation and Evolution Abstract
11212 Filling the Period Gap for Massive Binaries Douglas R. Gies, Georgia State University Research Foundation Abstract
11218 Howard E. Bond, Space Telescope Science Institute Snapshot Survey for Planetary Nebulae in Globular Clusters of the Local Group Abstract
11289 Jean-Paul Kneib, Laboratoire d'Astronomie Spatiale SL2S: The Strong Lensing Legacy Survey Abstract
11789 George Fritz Benedict, University of Texas at Austin An Astrometric Calibration of Population II Distance Indicators Abstract
11867 John Trauger, Jet Propulsion Laboratory HH 30 Abstract
11901 Douglas R. Gies, Georgia State University Research Foundation Filling the Period Gap for Massive Binaries Abstract
11942 George Fritz Benedict, University of Texas at Austin Increasing the Accuracy of HST Astrometry with FGS1r Abstract

Some selected highlights

GO 11113: Binaries in the Kuiper Belt: Probes of Solar System Formation and Evolution

A composite of HST images of the Kuiper Belt binary, WW31 The Kuiper Belt consists of icy planetoids that orbit the Sun within a broad band stretching from Neptune's orbit (~30 AU) to distance sof ~50 AU from the Sun (see David Jewitt's Kuiper Belt page for details). Over 500 KBOs are currently known out of a population of perhaps 70,000 objects with diameters exceeding 100 km. Approximately 2% of the known KBOs are binary (including Pluto, one of the largest known KBOs, regardless of whether one considers it a planet or not). This is a surprisingly high fraction, given the difficulties involved in forming such systems and the relative ease with which they can be disrupted. It remains unclear whether these systems formed from single KBOs (through collisions or 3-body interactions) as the Kuiper Belt and the Solar System have evolved, or whether they represent the final tail of an initial (much larger) population of primordial binaries. This proposal will use WFPC2 imaging of known KBOs to identify new binary systems.

GO 11289: SL2S - The Strong Lensing Legacy Survey

ACS images of galaxy-galaxy Einstein ring lenses from the Sloan survey Gravitational lensing is a consequence the theory of general relativity. Its importance as an astrophysical tool first became apparent with the realisation (in 1979) that the quasar pair Q0957+561 actually comprised two lensed images of the same background quasar. In the succeeding years, lensing has been used primarily to probe the mass distribution of galaxy clusters, using theoretical models to analyse the arcs and arclets that are produced by strong lensing of background galaxies, and the large-scale mass distribution, through analysis of weak lensing effects on galaxy morphologies. Gravitational lensing can also be used to investigate the mass distribution of individual galaxies. Until recently, the most common background sources were quasars. Galaxy-galaxy lenses, however, offer a distinct advantage, since the background source is extended, and therefore imposes a stronger constraints on the mass distribution of the lensing galaxy than a point-source QSO. The CFHT Legacy survey provides a powerful tool for identifying candidate galaxy-galaxy lenses. Optical ground-based imaging, even from Hawaii, cannot match the results from a 2.4-metre telescope in orbit. Thus, the present program is using WFPC2 imaging to verify the nature of those candidates. The high resolution images can then be analysed to model the underlying mass distribution.

GO 11942: Increasing the Accuracy of HST Astrometry with FGS1r

Artist's impression of a young planetary system This FGS program is a follow-up to GO 11210, "The Architecture of Exoplanetary Systems". Immanuel Kant is generally credited with first proposing that the planets in the Solar System coalesced from a flat, rotating disk formed by the Solar Nebula. Direct confirmation of that process only came in the early 1990s, when millimetre-wave interferometers were able to detect molecular gas in Keplerian rotation around a handful of nearby young stars. Since then, there have been numerous other observations, including Hubble's images of proplyds (protoplanetary disks) in the Orion Cluster, and Hubble and Spitzer observations of edge-on disks in other young stars. One of the clear selling points of the Solar Nebula disk model is that it appears to offer a natural path to forming planets with coplanar orbits, matching (most of) our observations of the Solar System. On the other hand, as our knowledge of exoplanetary systems has accumulated over the last decade, it has become clear that dynamical interactions may play a very important role in the evolution of these systems. In particular, disk/planet interactions are generally regarded as responsible for the inward migration of gas giants to form hot Jupiters in <3 day period orbits. Planet-planet interactions could lead to significant changes in orbital inclination. Radial velocity planet searches are uncovering more and more multi-planet systems. Program GO 11210 focused the high precision of HST's astrometric detectors, the Fine Guidance Sensors, on four of those systems. The aim is to complement the existing radial velocity measurements with sub-milliarcsecond precision astrometry, allowing determination of the true orbital paths - specifically, the relative inclination - of the low-mass objects in these systems. The present observations build on this program by adding longer-baseline measurements, providing a better basis for subtracting the systemic proper motion and identifying anomalous motions.

Past weeks:
page by Neill Reid, updated 1/10/2008