Canada's first space telescope finds stellar 'Flat Liner'

06/30/04

Discovery overturns 20 years of previous research

MOST, Canada's first space telescope, celebrates its first birthday today, but its latest surprising results could spoil the party for other astronomers whose earlier results are now being questioned.

The MOST team used their tiny but powerful satellite as a stellar stethoscope to take the pulse of one of the best-known stars in the Galaxy, called Procyon (PRO-see-yon), and were shocked to discover their cosmic patient is a "flat liner". The star shows none of the pulsations predicted by over 20 years of earlier theory and observations from Earth. The journal Nature will publish these unexpected findings on July 1.

"The lack of a pulse doesn't mean the star Procyon is dead," explained MOST Mission Scientist Dr. Jaymie Matthews of the University of British Columbia. "But it does mean that some of our long-held theories about stars like this need to be put on the critical list. And that future space missions following in the path of MOST will have to revise their target lists and observing strategies in light of this null result."

MOST, which stands for Microvariability and Oscillations of STars, is a Canadian Space Agency mission. UBC is the main contractor for the instrument and scientific operations of the MOST mission.

MOST is not much bigger than a suitcase but is able to measure the brightness variations of stars more precisely than any other instrument on Earth or in space. It was launched one year ago on June 30, aboard a modified Russian nuclear missile. To mark the occasion, MOST scientists celebrated with a birthday party complete with cake and dehydrated "space" ice cream.

"MOST is only one year old, but it's proving to be a very precocious child," said Roger Colley, a senior official from the Canadian Space Agency. "In its first six months of operation, MOST has already given us new perspectives on the stars we thought we knew best, the ones in our own Galactic backyard. In that way, it's providing new insights into the Sun, the star we need to understand better to predict the future of our home planet."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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