This week on HST

HST Programs: February 23 - March 1, 2009

Program Number Principal Investigator Program Title Links
11161 Alicia M. Soderberg, California Institute of Technology Revealing the Explosion Geometry of Nearby GRB-SNe Abstract
11298 John P. Subasavage, Georgia State University Research Calibrating Cosmological Chronometers: White Dwarf Masses Abstract
11603 Jennifer Andrews, Louisiana State University and A & M College A Comprehensive Study of Dust Formation in Type II Supernovae with HST, Spitzer and Gemini Abstract
11681 William B. Sparks, Space Telescope Science Institute A Search for Ultraviolet Emission Filaments in Cool Core Clusters Abstract
11704 Brian Chaboyer, Dartmouth College The Ages of Globular Clusters and the Population II Distance Scale Abstract
11706 Peter McCullough, Space Telescope Science Institute The Parallax of the Planet Host Star XO-3 Abstract
11788 George Fritz Benedict, University of Texas at Austin The Architecture of Exoplanetary Systems Abstract
11943 Douglas R. Gies, Georgia State University Research Foundation Binaries at the Extremes of the H-R Diagram Abstract
11944 Douglas R. Gies, Georgia State University Research Foundation Binaries at the Extremes of the H-R Diagram Abstract
11956 Keith Noll, Space Telescope Science Institute Hubble Heritage: Side B Abstract
11972 Karen J. Meech, University of Hawaii Investigating the Early Solar System with Distant Comet Nuclei Abstract
11974 Sahar S. Allam, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory High-resolution imaging for 9 very bright, spectroscopically confirmed, group-scale lenses Abstract
11978 Tommaso L. Treu, University of California - Santa Barbara Luminous and dark matter in disk galaxies from strong lensing and stellar kinematics Abstract
11980 Sylvain Veilleux, University of Maryland Deep FUV Imaging of Cooling Flow Clusters Abstract
11982 Scott F. Anderson, University of Washington Spanning the Reionization History of IGM Helium: a Large and Efficient HST Spectral Survey of Far-UV-Bright Quasars Abstract
11983 Massimo Robberto, Space Telescope Science Institute An Imaging Survey of Protoplanetary Disks and Brown Dwarfs in the Chamaeleon I region Abstract
11984 Jonathan D. Nichols, University of Leicester Observing Saturn's high latitude polar auroras Abstract
11986 Julianne Dalcanton, Univ. Washington Completing HST's Local Volume Legacy Abstract

Selected highlights

GO 11298: Calibrating Cosmological Chronometers: White Dwarf Masses

HST image of the white dwarf companion to Sirius - which isn't a target of the present program White dwarfs are the evolutionary end point for most stars with masses less than ~7 MSun. These compact degenerate objects lack any internal heat source, and therefore gradually cool from their initial temperatures of ~100,000-200,000K. As they cool, the luminosity decreases from Mbol ~ 2-3 (for the immediate post-PN object) to Mbol ~ 17 (for 10-12 Gyr-old Galactic halo white dwarfs). The rate of cooling can be predicted using sophisticated models of white dwarf interiors. These models show that the rates are mass dependent, but the overwhelming majority of field white dwarfs are expected to have masses in the range 0.6-0.7 MSun, reflecting the steep slope to the IMF above ~1 MSun (high mass stars are rare, so high mass remnants, like Sirius B, are also rare). Confirming that hypothesis demands reliable mass measurements for individual white dwarfs. Fortunately, a number of white dwarfs are known in binary systems, and a subset of those systems are close enough to each other and to the Sun that their orbits can be mapped (and hence their dynamical masses determined) using the Fine Guidance Sensors on HST. The present program targets 4 white dwarf/white dwarf binary systems.

GO 11704: The Ages of Globular Clusters and the Population II Distance Scale

Hubble Heritage image of the globular cluster, M15 Globular clusters are the oldest structures within the Milky Way that are directly accessible to observation. They are relatively simple systems, with relatively simple colour-magnitude diagrams (albeit with some complexities adduced from recent HST observations, see GO 11233 ). Matching those CMDs against theoretical models allows us to set constraints on the age of the oldest stars in the Galaxy, and hence on the age of the Milky Way and the epoch of galaxy formation. However, the accuracy of those age determinations rest crucially on the accuracy of the cluster distance determinations. The clusters themselves lie at distances of several kpc at best, and tens of kpc at worst; thus, direct trigonometric parallax measurements must await microacrsecond astrometric missions. The classical method of deriving distances is main sequence fitting - using nearby stars, with similar chemical abundances and accurate parallax measurements, to map out the main sequence in absolute units, and then scaling the clusetr data to fit. The problem with this method is that metal-poor subdwarfs are rare, so even Hipparcos was only able to obtain accurate distances to a handful of stars. The present program aims to improve the distance measurements by using the Fine Guidance Sensors on HST to determine sub-millarcsecond trigonometric parallaxes to 9 subdwarfs, almost doubling the sample available for MS fitting.

GO 11788: The Architecture of Exoplanetary Systems

Artist's impression of a young planetary system 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. This program focuses 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.

GO 11982: Spanning the Reionization History of IGM Helium: a Large and Efficient HST Spectral Survey of Far-UV-Bright Quasars

GALEX, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer The reionisation epoch for intergalactic helium is thought to occur somewhere between redshifts 3 and 4. Observations with the GALEX satellite, a NASA small explorer-class mission equipped with a 50-cm diameter telescope, are proving critical in testing this hypothesis through the identification of UV bright quasars in the appropriate redshift range. Galex was launched on 28th April 2003, and continues to operate more than 30 months beyond its nominal lifetime, conducting ultraviolet imaging and low-resolution grism spectroscopy at far-UV (125-175 nm) and near-UV (175-280 nm) wavelengths. Past HST programs by this research have used the ACS/SBC to target sources identified by cross-referencing GALEX against SDSS catalogues of moderate (1 < z < 3) and high redshift (z > 3.1) quasars. These sources can serve as effective probes of the ionisation state of the intergalactic medium at intervening redshifts. In particular, analysis of the He II Lyman-alpha absorption will shed light on the epoch of reionisation of intergalactic helium, generall placed between redshifts 3 and 4. The present program will use the ACS/SBC PR120L prism for spectroscopy of 40 QSOs with redshifts in the range 3.1 < z < 5.1.

Past weeks:
page by Neill Reid, updated 23/2/2009