Sharpest-ever ground-based images of Pluto and Charon

September 26, 2012 Speckle image reconstruction of Pluto and Charon obtained in visible light at 692 nanometers (red) with the Gemini North 8-meter telescope using the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI). Resolution of the image is about 20 milliarcseconds rms…

September 26, 2012

Speckle image reconstruction of Pluto and Charon obtained in visible light at 692 nanometers (red) with the Gemini North 8-meter telescope using the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI). Resolution of the image is about 20 milliarcseconds rms (root mean square). This is the first speckle reconstructed image for Pluto and Charon from which astronomers obtained not only the separation and position angle for Charon, but also the diameters of the two bodies. North is up, east is to the left, and the image section shown here is 1.39 arcseconds across. Credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF/NASA/AURA

(Phys.org)—Despite being infamously demoted from its status as a major planet, Pluto (and its largest companion Charon) recently posed as a surrogate extrasolar planetary system to help astronomers produce exceptionally high-resolution images with the Gemini North 8-meter telescope. Using a method called reconstructive speckle imaging, the researchers took the sharpest ground-based snapshots ever obtained of Pluto and Charon in visible light, which hint at the exoplanet verification power of a large state-of-the-art telescope when combined with speckle imaging techniques. The data also verified and refined previous orbital characteristics for Pluto and Charon while revealing the pair’s precise diameters.

“The Pluto-Charon result is of timely interest to those of us wanting to understand the orbital dynamics of this pair for the upcoming NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto,” said Steve Howell of the NASA Ames Research Center, who led the study. In addition, Howell notes that NASA’s Kepler mission, which has already proven a powerful exoplanet discovery tool, will benefit greatly from this technique.
Kepler identifies planet candidates by repeatedly measuring the change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars to detect when a planet passes in front of, or affects the brightness of, its host star. Speckle imaging with the Gemini telescope will provide Kepler’s follow-up program with a doubling in its ability to resolve objects and validate Earth-like planets. It also offers a 3- to 4-magnitude sensitivity increase for the sources observed by the team. That’s about a 50-fold increase in sensitivity in the observations Howell and his team made at Gemini. “This is an enormous gain in the effort underway to confirm small Earth-size planets,” Howell added.
To institute this effort Howell and his team –– which included Elliott Horch (Southern Connecticut State University), Mark Everett (National Optical Astronomy Observatory), and David Ciardi (NASA Exoplanet Science Institute/Caltech) –– temporarily installed a camera, called the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI), among the suite of instruments mounted on the Gemini telescope.
“This was a fantastic opportunity to bring DSSI to Gemini North this past July,” said Horch. “In just a little over half an hour of Pluto observations, collecting light with the large Gemini mirror, we obtained the best resolution ever with the DSSI instrument –– it was stunning!”
The resolution obtained in the observations, about 20 milliarcseconds, easily corresponds to separating a pair of automobile headlights in Providence, Rhode Island, from San Francisco, California. To achieve this level of definition, Gemini obtained a large number of very quick “snapshots” of Pluto and Charon. The researchers then reconstructed them into a single image after subtracting the blurring effects and ever-changing speckled artifacts caused by turbulence in the atmosphere and other optical aberrations. With enough snapshots (each image was exposed for only 60 milliseconds or about 1/20 of a second) only the light from the actual objects remains constant, and the artifacts reveal their transient nature, eventually canceling each other out.
DSSI was built at SCSU between 2007-2008 as a part of a United States National Science Foundation Astronomical Instrumentation grant and mounted on the Gemini North telescope for a limited observing run. The instrument is likely to return to Gemini North for observations in mid-2013 for general user programs from across the international Gemini partnership. Any such arrangement will be announced along with the call for proposals for Semester 13B, in February 2013.
This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Kepler discovery mission and will be published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in October 2012.

Provided by

Gemini Observatory

view popular
send feedback to editors

4.4 /5 (10 votes)

1
2
3
4
5

Move the slider to adjust rank threshold, so that you can hide some of the comments.

Display comments:
newest first

Rank

1
2
3
4
5

4.4 /5 (10 votes)

more news

Related Stories

Jul 20, 2005
0
Rare astronomical alignment observed

Jan 11, 2006
0
Kuiper Belt Moons Are Starting to Seem Typical

Jun 06, 2011
0
The search for planets and stars out of this world

Jul 20, 2011
0
Hubble discovers another moon around Pluto

Relevant PhysicsForums posts

How do you calculate declination and Right Ascension from Earth Coordinates?
1 hour ago
Say a person is positioned here: 40.23°N and 15.89°E and was examining the night sky.

How do you calculate the declination and Right Ascension from that location’s coordinates?

I know the RA is…

Proof of rivers on Mars.
Sep 28, 2012
http://http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/09/27/161896238/streams-of-water-once-flowed-on-mars-nasa-says-photos-prove-it?utm_source=NPR&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=20120927…

Solar System Rocket Trajectories Simulator
Sep 27, 2012
Hi all,

I had an exhaustive time looking on the web for software (either free or commercial) that allows someone to simulate trips into the solar system from planets. I’m looking for something…

The likelihood of polyverses
Sep 26, 2012
There are likely to be infinite, or at least countless universes out there. We haven’t seen them because any signs of their existence, such as wavelengths along the EMS, may very well take trillions…

a basic question on gravity from a novice
Sep 25, 2012
First let me apologise if this is a dumb question, or it has been asked before but i can’t find an answer anywhere. I am a bit puzzled by some aspects of gravity. I’m also a novice so the question is…

solar system space dust avg density[kg/m^3]
Sep 25, 2012
What avg density [kg/m^3] may I attribute to solar system space dust? Halliday & Resnick give
E-18 to E-21 [kg/^3]. This will allow me to compute solar system density, if I know solar system…

More from Physics Forums – General Astronomy

More news stories

NASA sees Tropical Storm Miriam takes final bow, replaced by Norman

The National Hurricane Center issued their last advisory on Miriam on Sept. 27 at 11 p.m. EDT when it became a remnant low pressure area. At that time, the center of post-tropical cyclone Miriam was located …

Space & Earth / Earth Sciences

4 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0

China launches 2nd satellite built for Venezuela

(AP)—China has launched a second satellite built for Venezuela’s government.

Space & Earth / Space Exploration

4 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0

NASA sees stubborn Nadine intensify into a hurricane again

Infrared data from NASA’s Aqua satellite today, Sept. 28, revealed strong convection and thunderstorms have built up again in Tropical Storm Nadine as it moved over warm waters in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean. …

Space & Earth / Earth Sciences

5 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0

NASA sees many things happening in Tropical Storm Ewiniar

There are a number of things happening under the hood of Tropical Storm Ewiniar’s clouds that have been deciphered by satellite data today, Sept. 28, 2012, and NASA’s TRMM satellite has noticed one area of …

Space & Earth / Earth Sciences

5 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0

2 telecom satellites launched from French Guiana

Arianespace has launched two satellites from the South American country of French Guiana that will provide telecommunication services to the Eastern Hemisphere.

Space & Earth / Space Exploration

5 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0

Google strips news badges in house cleaning

Google trimmed news “badges” and more as part of year-long house cleaning aimed at sweeping out unpopular, outdated or unneeded features at its online properties.

Technology / Internet
4 hours ago |
5 / 5 (1) |
0

Combination of targeted treatment drugs delays resistance in melanoma patients

Combined treatment with two drugs targeting different points in the same growth-factor pathway delayed the development of treatment resistance in patients with BRAF-positive metastatic malignant melanoma. The results of a …

Medicine & Health / Cancer
5 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0

US launches effort to ease ‘spectrum crunch’

US regulators voted Friday to begin a process to reallocate some of the broadcast spectrum to meet surging demand from smartphones, tablets and other devices that use the wireless Internet.

Technology / Telecom
4 hours ago |
5 / 5 (1) |
1

Study examines how to control spatial distribution of cells in microenvironments

Living systems are made of complex architectural organization of various cell types in defined microenvironments. The intricate interactions between different cell types control the specific functions of …

Biology / Cell & Microbiology
2 hours ago |
not rated yet |
0
|

Electric-car Nemesis at top speeds is record-breaker

(Phys.org)—Fans call it the first “electric super car” for a reason. The UK-built on Thursday smashed the UK electric car land-speed record, topping 151 mph. The Nemesis was at an airfield near York, completing …

Technology / Energy & Green Tech
3 hours ago |
3 / 5 (1) |
3
|

You’re far less in control of your brain than you think, study finds

You’ve probably never given much thought to the fact that picking up your cup of morning coffee presents your brain with a set of complex decisions. You need to decide how to aim your hand, grasp the handle and raise the …

Medicine & Health / Neuroscience
23 hours ago |
4.3 / 5 (12) |
8
|