The K2 Program and Pluto Lab Update
Hello and welcome back!
This week is a special hooray and congrats to the extension of the NASA K2 mission for another three years! This mission is very unique in that it is a community-driven mission. That is, "guest observers"- scientists around the world- can submit a project idea on what they would use the instrument for in regards to exoplanet research! This mission launched in June 2014 after a failure and eventual end to the Kepler mission.
Now, many of you may think that exoplanet research is dead-end or think what more we could possibly learn besides a small body orbiting a Sun. The K2 mission will expand upon many new ideas to study exoplanets: characterize atmospheres, find smaller planets (right now, we can barely get to resolution to the size of Earth), look around other hotter or colder host stars comparable to our Sun, migration of rogue planets, binary star systems, star clusters, astroseismology, and other opportunities!
As of April 2016, the K2 mission has been the campaign mission to study microlensing events. A lensing effect can be seen with very large, dense and bright objects, like galaxy clusters. A microlensing event is much smaller, such as a big bright star bending the light from behind it of an even bigger star.
You can see microlensing at home! Try looking at the bottom of a glass container and toward a bright area. You may notice that the light, like a window or lamp source, reflects- or bends- around the edge of the glass. You could also put a glass container on a piece of graph paper and as you slowly slide the glass, you would see the graph lines magnify then back to normal.
We can experiment the same with stars to entire galaxies! It all depends on your perspective!
Update from Pluto lab: gas mixing is underway with the Pluto Simulation Chamber with ratios of nitrogen and methane. We know what spectral signatures we should see from previous studies, like from Lowell Observatory, as this is a nice test-run for our instrument!
Thank you for reading and next week: I'll talk about what "planetary analogues" are!