Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory

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Flight Project

Herschel Space Observatory

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory (formerly called Far Infrared and Sub-millimetre Telescope or FIRST) has the largest single mirror ever built for a space telescope. At 3.5-metres in diameter the mirror will collect long-wavelength radiation from some of the coldest and most distant objects in the Universe. In addition, Herschel is the only space observatory to cover a spectral range from the far infrared to sub-millimetre.

Key Staff

    Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

    The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a multi-instrument observatory that has dramatically changed humanity's understanding of the universe for over two decades, with dramatic images of stars, planets, and galaxies. Hubble orbits Earth; its position above the atmosphere, which distorts and reduces the light that reaches the surface, gives it a view of the universe that typically surpasses that of ground-based telescopes. HST's various instruments investigate the universe in the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared portions of the spectrum. HST was deployed from the space shuttle Discovery on April 25, 1990. After that, the telescope underwent five servicing missions to repair or upgrade various instruments and systems.

    photo of Hubble in space
    Flight Project

    James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

    The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large space observatory that will operate in an orbit some 1 million miles from Earth. JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. It will also peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own solar System. Webb's instruments are designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range. The observatory was launched on Dec 25, 2021.

    Key Staff
      artist's conception of JWST in space
      Instrument

      Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS)

      The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) is an instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. It combines a camera with a spectrograph, and covers a wide range of wavelengths from the near-infrared region into the ultraviolet. The spectrograph spreads out light gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope so that it can be analyzed to determine things like the chemical composition, motions, and temperatures of astronomical objects. STIS also has an instrument called a coronagraph. It can block light from bright objects in a region being observed, which make sit possible to study fainter targets nearby. STIS was installed on the Hubble Space Telescope during Servicing Mission 2 in 1997. The instrument malfunctioned in August 2004, and was repaired during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009.

      Key Staff
        photo of STIS instrument in clean room
        Instrument

        The Large Binocular Telescope (LBTI)

        The LBTI project is a NASA-funded instrument on the Large Binocular Telescope, intended to look for exozodiacal dust and gas giant planets around nearby stars. It serves as a pathfinder for future NASA missions that seek to image directly Earth-like planets and search them for spectroscopic signatures of habitability and life.

        Key Staff
          Flight Project

          Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

          TESS is an Explorer mission that was selected for development in 2013. Launched on April 18, 2018, TESS will conduct a two-year survey searching ~200,000 bright (V=4-12), nearby stars for transiting exoplanets, including the 1,000 closest red dwarfs similar to our Sun. The survey will focus on G- and K- type stars with apparent magnitudes brighter than 12. Simulations of the TESS mission predict that TESS will find thousands of new exoplanets, including hundreds of small exoplanets, and even a few (~5) rocky planets in the habitable zones of their host stars. With the time-ordered photometric data for these targets, TESS will provide the target list for future follow-up observations of transiting exoplanets. Because the host stars are bright and nearby, they will be ideal for ground-based observations and well suited to transit spectroscopy with JWST.

          Key Staff
            artist's conception of TESS in space
            Instrument

            Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3)

            Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) is an instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts installed WFC3 during the final servicing mission to the space observatory in May 2009. With a "panchromatic" grasp of light extending from the ultraviolet through the visible and into the infrared, WFC3 is an extremely powerful imaging instrument, extending Hubble's capabilities by seeing deeper into the universe.

            Key Staff
              photo of engineers working on WFC3 in the clean room