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"An attempt to Directly Image an Extrasolar Planet from a Sounding Rocket"

Supriya Chakrabarti (Director of Center for Space Physics Boston University, USA

Abstract:

We are developing a sounding rocket experiment to obtain a direct image of an extrasolar giant planet. The Planet Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Rocket Experiment (PICTURE) is a collaboration between Boston University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. It is scheduled for launch in 2007. 

Most of the extrasolar planets have been discovered using the radial velocity technique. However, to obtain fundamental physical parameters of these planets (for example, mass and orbital inclination), we need additional measurements. PICTURE will use a nulling interferometer developed at JPL for the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission along with other enabling technologies to demonstrate their flight worthiness. Additionally, we will also improve capabilities of the sounding rocket subsystems such as the attitude control system for other applications.


The target for PICTURE is Epsilon Eridani. It is a nearby (~3.2 pc) K2 V star (0.8 M) whose estimated age is 0.5 1 Gyr. A dust ring, with characteristics similar to the Kuiper belt, was discovered around this star in 1998.  Based on the morphology of the ring structure, a hypothetical second planet ( epsilon Eri c) was also suggested. The radial velocity detection indicated a highly eccentric (e ~ 0.61) orbit and an astrometric observation reported its mass to be about 1.2 MJ.

In this talk, I will outline the challenges we face and our approach. I will also provide a status report.