In search of planets and life around other stars.
The discovery of over a dozen low-mass companions to nearby stars has intensified scientific and public interest in a longer term search for habitable planets like our own. However, the nature of the detected companions, and in particular whether they resemble Jupiter in properties and origin, remains undetermined. (+info)
Nebular and auroral emission lines of [Cl III] in the optical spectra of planetary nebulae.
Electron impact excitation rates in Cl III, recently determined with the R-matrix code, are used to calculate electron temperature (T(e)) and density (N(e)) emission line ratios involving both the nebular (5517.7, 5537.9 A) and auroral (8433.9, 8480.9, 8500.0 A) transitions. A comparison of these results with observational data for a sample of planetary nebulae, obtained with the Hamilton Echelle Spectrograph on the 3-m Shane Telescope, reveals that the R(1) = I(5518 A)/I(5538 A) intensity ratio provides estimates of N(e) in excellent agreement with the values derived from other line ratios in the echelle spectra. This agreement indicates that R(1) is a reliable density diagnostic for planetary nebulae, and it also provides observational support for the accuracy of the atomic data adopted in the line ratio calculations. However the [Cl iii] 8433.9 A line is found to be frequently blended with a weak telluric emission feature, although in those instances when the [Cl iii] intensity may be reliably measured, it provides accurate determinations of T(e) when ratioed against the sum of the 5518 and 5538 A line fluxes. Similarly, the 8500.0 A line, previously believed to be free of contamination by the Earth's atmosphere, is also shown to be generally blended with a weak telluric emission feature. The [Cl iii] transition at 8480.9 A is found to be blended with the He i 8480.7 A line, except in planetary nebulae that show a relatively weak He i spectrum, where it also provides reliable estimates of T(e) when ratioed against the nebular lines. Finally, the diagnostic potential of the near-UV [Cl iii] lines at 3344 and 3354 A is briefly discussed. (+info)
The occurrence of Jovian planets and the habitability of planetary systems.
Planets of mass comparable to or larger than Jupiter's have been detected around over 50 stars, and for one such object a definitive test of its nature as a gas giant has been accomplished with data from an observed planetary transit. By virtue of their strong gravitational pull, giant planets define the dynamical and collisional environment within which terrestrial planets form. In our solar system, the position and timing of the formation of Jupiter determined the amount and source of the volatiles from which Earth's oceans and the source elements for life were derived. This paper reviews and brings together diverse observational and modeling results to infer the frequency and distribution of giant planets around solar-type stars and to assess implications for the habitability of terrestrial planets. (+info)
Planetary exploration in the time of astrobiology: protecting against biological contamination.
These are intriguing times in the exploration of other solar-system bodies. Continuing discoveries about life on Earth and the return of data suggesting the presence of liquid water environments on or under the surfaces of other planets and moons have combined to suggest the significant possibility that extraterrestrial life may exist in this solar system. Similarly, not since the Viking missions of the mid-1970s has there been as great an appreciation for the potential for Earth life to contaminate other worlds. Current plans for the exploration of the solar system include constraints intended to prevent biological contamination from being spread by solar-system exploration missions. (+info)
Mass spectrometry in the U.S. space program: past, present, and future.
Recent years have witnessed significant progress on the miniaturization of mass spectrometers for a variety of field applications. This article describes the development and application of mass spectrometry (MS) instrumentation to support of goals of the U.S. space program. Its main focus is on the two most common space-related applications of MS: studying the composition of planetary atmospheres and monitoring air quality on manned space missions. Both sets of applications present special requirements in terms of analytical performance (sensitivity, selectivity, speed, etc.), logistical considerations (space, weight, and power requirements), and deployment in perhaps the harshest of all possible environments (space). The MS instruments deployed on the Pioneer Venus and Mars Viking Lander missions are reviewed for the purposes of illustrating the unique features of the sample introduction systems, mass analyzers, and vacuum systems, and for presenting their specifications which are impressive even by today's standards. The various approaches for monitoring volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in cabin atmospheres are also reviewed. In the past, ground-based GC/MS instruments have been used to identify and quantify VOCs in archival samples collected during the Mercury, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle, and Mir missions. Some of the data from the more recent missions are provided to illustrate the composition data obtained and to underscore the need for instrumentation to perform such monitoring in situ. Lastly, the development of two emerging technologies, Direct Sampling Ion Trap Mass Spectrometry (DSITMS) and GC/Ion Mobility Spectrometry (GC/IMS), will be discussed to illustrate their potential utility for future missions. (+info)
Gas chromatographic separation of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon monoxide using custom-made porous polymers from high purity divinylbenzene.
Existing porous polymers were surveyed for their ability to separate the subject gases. Certain products that showed more promise than others were synthesized and the existing synthetic procedures studied and modified to produce new polymers with enhanced ability to separate the subject gases. Evaluation of the porous polymers was carried out practically by gas chromatography at ambient temperature. The modified synthetic procedures were somewhat simpler than the originals. The new porous polymers made with high purity divinylbenzene enabled use of shorter columns to obtain the separations desired. (+info)
Formation of giant planets by fragmentation of protoplanetary disks.
The evolution of gravitationally unstable protoplanetary gaseous disks has been studied with the use of three-dimensional smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations with unprecedented resolution. We have considered disks with initial masses and temperature profiles consistent with those inferred for the protosolar nebula and for other protoplanetary disks. We show that long-lasting, self-gravitating protoplanets arise after a few disk orbital periods if cooling is efficient enough to maintain the temperature close to 50 K. The resulting bodies have masses and orbital eccentricities similar to those of detected extrasolar planets. (+info)
The onset of planet formation in brown dwarf disks.
The onset of planet formation in protoplanetary disks is marked by the growth and crystallization of sub-micrometer-sized dust grains accompanied by dust settling toward the disk mid-plane. Here, we present infrared spectra of disks around brown dwarfs and brown dwarf candidates. We show that all three processes occur in such cool disks in a way similar or identical to that in disks around low- and intermediate-mass stars. These results indicate that the onset of planet formation extends to disks around brown dwarfs, suggesting that planet formation is a robust process occurring in most young circumstellar disks. (+info)