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SIM PlanetQuest September 5, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Artists conception of a rocky planet circling a Sun-like star. (Courtesy JPL/SIM PlanetQuest/NASA).Well, we have talked about Kepler, way back, now we have left the only space-based NASA mission in the search for extrasolar planets to survive the chopping block, or at least, the delay block.

SIM PlanetQuest is one of the NASA extrasolar planet missions to suffer under the FY 07 budget.

From the FY 07 NASA budget request:

“As reported in the May 2005 operating plan, SIM is being replanned, to be completed in spring 2006. A launch of no earlier than 2015-16, a change of approximately 3 years, is assumed in this budget.”

I have heard nothing thus far.

A three year delay for SIM PlanetQuest, sadly enough this means all the more chance that this mission will eventually be cancelled like its brethern the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF).

SIM PlanetQuest, if it ever leaves the Earth, promises to be an exciting mission to say the least. It would represent the most powerful planet seeking space telescope ever devised.

SIM PlanetQuest has missions beyond planet hunting, but to me the extrasolar planet hunt is the most exciting aspect of this mission. The planet-hunting mission is divided into three seperate missions.

1. The first census of nearby Earth-like planets by observing the "wobble" in each parent star's apparent motion as the planet orbits, to an accuracy of one millionth of an arcsecond. (or the thickness of a nickel, viewed at the distance of the moon).

2. The "broad survey," will probe roughly 2,000 stars to determine the prevalence of Neptune and larger mass planets in all stellar types in our part of the galaxy.

3. a search for Jupiter-mass planets around young stars. This survey will help scientists understand the process of solar system formation, including the occurrence of "hot Jupiters" – massive planets located very close to their parent stars.

Some of the other scientific missions for SIM would include, the mapping of the Milky Way, finding black holes and dark matter, determining stellar mass and size for all types of stars.

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