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    January 2018
    S M T W T F S
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Discovery of New Twin Planets Could Solve Mystery

Scientists are getting closer to the answer of how did the largest planets get to be so large, thanks to the recent discovery of twin planets by a University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy (UH IFA) team led by graduate student Samuel Grunblatt.

Upper left: Schematic of the K2-132 system on the main sequence. Lower left: Schematic of the K2-132 system now. The host star has become redder and larger, irradiating the planet more and thus causing it to expand. Sizes not to scale. Main panel: Gas giant planet K2-132b expands as its host star evolves into a red giant. The energy from the host star is transferred from the planet’s surface to its deep interior, causing turbulence and deep mixing in the planetary atmosphere. The planet orbits its star every nine days and is located about 2000 light years away from us in the constellation Virgo. PC: Karen Teramura, UH IFA

Gas giant planets are primarily made out of hydrogen and helium, and are at least four times the diameter of Earth. Gas giant planets that orbit close to their host stars are known as “hot Jupiters.”

These planets have masses similar to Jupiter and Saturn, but tend to be much larger—some are puffed up to sizes even larger than the smallest stars.

The unusually large sizes of these planets are likely related to heat flowing in and out of their atmospheres, and several theories have been developed to explain this process.

“However, since we don’t have millions of years to see how a particular planetary system evolves, planet inflation theories have been difficult to prove or disprove,” said Grunblatt.

To solve this issue, Grunblatt searched through data collected by NASA’s K2 Mission to hunt for hot Jupiters orbiting red giant stars. These stars, which are in the late stages of their lives, become themselves significantly larger over their companion planet’s lifetime. Following a theory put forth by Eric Lopez of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, hot Jupiters orbiting red giant stars should be highly inflated if direct energy input from the host star is the dominant process inflating planets.

The search has now revealed two planets, each orbiting their host star with a period of approximately nine days. Using stellar oscillations to precisely calculate the radii of both the stars and planets, the team found that the planets are 30 percent larger than Jupiter.

Observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea on Hawai‘i Island also showed that, despite their large sizes, the planets were only half as massive as Jupiter. Remarkably, the two planets are near twins in terms of their orbital periods, radii and masses.

Using models to track the evolution of the planets and their stars over time, the team calculated the planets’ efficiency at absorbing heat from the star and transferring it to their deep interiors, causing the whole planet to expand in size and decrease in density. Their findings show that these planets likely needed the increased radiation from the red giant star to inflate, but the amount of radiation absorbed was also lower than expected.

It is risky to attempt to reach strong conclusions with only two examples. But these results begin to rule out some explanations of planet inflation, and are consistent with a scenario where planets are directly inflated by the heat from their host stars. The mounting scientific evidence seems to suggest that stellar radiation alone can directly alter the size and density of a planet.

The Sun will eventually become a red giant star, so it’s important to quantify the effect its evolution will have on the rest of the Solar System. “Studying how stellar evolution affects planets is a new frontier, both in other solar systems as well as our own,” said Grunblatt. “With a better idea of how planets respond to these changes, we can start to determine how the Sun’s evolution will affect the atmosphere, oceans, and life here on Earth.”

The search for gas giant planets around red giant stars continues since additional systems could conclusively distinguish between planet inflation scenarios. Grunblatt and his team have been awarded time with the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the sizes of these twin planets more accurately. In addition, the search for planets around red giants with the NASA K2 Mission will continue for at least another year, and NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launching in 2018, will observe hundreds of thousands of red giants across the entire sky.

“Seeing double with K2: Testing re-inflation with two remarkably similar planets orbiting red giant branch stars” has been published in November 27th edition of The Astronomical Journal as and is available online.

TMT Primary Mirrors Enter Production Phase

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has entered into a contract with Coherent Inc., a provider of lasers and laser-based technology, to polish its U.S. manufactured primary mirrors, marking a major production milestone.

The metrology device used in the polishing process of Roundel production, Coherent’s Two Dimensional Profilometer (2DP), is shown above in a special-use case where it is validating the active warping of the Polished Mirror Assembly (PMA). PC: TMT International Observatory

TMT, with its thirty-meter diameter primary mirror and a collecting area greater than all other optical telescopes on Maunakea combined, is the largest optical/near-infrared telescope planned for the Northern Hemisphere.

Under the terms of the contract, Coherent will precisely contour and polish the optical surfaces of 230 mirror segments to the accuracy of less than 1/50th of the width of a human hair. The remaining segments, including spare segments, are being provided by TMT’s international partners Japan, China and India.

Coherent will use a unique “Stressed Mirror Polishing” (SMP) technique, a process refined jointly with TMT, for the production of the polished mirror segments. The Stressed Mirror Polishing uses specially designed fixtures that apply precise forces to the mirrors during their fabrication. The Ohara ClearCeram blank is warped into an aspheric shape, then accurately polished into a smooth spherical surface using a conventional polishing technique. The forces are released after polishing, and the mirror relaxes into the desired aspheric shape.

SMP methodology was originally developed for the construction of the Keck telescope primary mirror, led by the late TMT Project Scientist, Jerry Nelson. This process both reduces the cost of polishing and improves the smoothness of the resulting optical surfaces. Nelson’s revolutionary concept of segmented mirrors replacing a single large collecting aperture has been used worldwide for several large telescopes that cannot be created using a single optical element, including the James Webb Space Telescope.

Name of Mauna Kea Changed to “Maunakea”

From the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy:

Why have we changed the spelling of Mauna Kea to Maunakea? While the name Mauna Kea (white mountain) is simply descriptive, “Maunakea” is a name that in Native Hawaiian tradition is short for “Mauna a Wākea,” the mountain of Wākea, one of the progenitors of the Hawaiian people. Maunakea is believed to connect the land to the heavens.

By Vadim Kurland – originally posted to Flickr as IMG_2673.JPG, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10580597

The UH Hilo School of Hawaiian Language recommends the one-word spelling, and recently the Office of Maunakea Management started using the one-word spelling (but their abbreviation remains OMKM). According to Stephanie Nagata, director of OMKM, the name Maunakea has been accepted by the official Hawai‘i Board on Geographic Names, and the federal government has also accepted the name change, so new maps will now use the one-word name.

Resolution Affirming Collaborative Stewardship of Maunakea Considered by Board of Regents

The University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents is considering a resolution at the August 24 meeting that affirms UH‘s commitment to the collaborative stewardship of Maunakea’s cultural, natural, educational and scientific resources. The proposed resolution also directs the university to move forward to build a global model of harmonious and inspirational stewardship that integrates traditional indigenous knowledge and modern science.

The proposed resolution commits the university to work with the state, County of Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiian organizations and the community to achieve this aim, and also directs the university to increase the engagement of Native Hawaiian students, Hawaiʻi Island residents, and residents of the State of Hawaiʻi in the areas of astronomy, celestial navigation and exploration through an active educational and outreach program that highlights indigenous knowledge as well as enhanced student access to and utilization of Maunakea-based astronomical resources.

The resolution will also affirm the university’s commitment to return approximately 10,000 acres of land not utilized for astronomy to the jurisdiction of the state and the pursuit of a new lease or land tenure to secure the continued viability of astronomy in Hawaiʻi.

Resolution Affirming Commitment to the Collaborative Stewardship of Maunakea’s Cultural, Natural, Educational and Scientific Resources

WHEREAS, the Board of Regents believes that Maunakea can and should be a global model that provides inspiration, harmony and peaceful co-existence among culture, education, the environment and scientific discovery; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Regents for the University of Hawaiʻi embraced the university’s commitment to its responsibilities to Maunakea beginning with the adoption of the Maunakea Science Reserve Master Plan in 2000, the Maunakea Comprehensive Master Plan, Cultural Resources Management and Natural Resources Management Plans in 2009, and the Public Access and Decommissioning Plans in 2010; and

WHEREAS, the board and the university administration also aspire for the university to become a model indigenous-serving university and have committed to principles of sustainability across its mission; and

WHEREAS, the board now hereby affirms the commitment of the university to fulfill its obligations under the plans that have been approved, as well as its broader commitment to the community at large; and

WHEREAS, the board wishes to additionally acknowledge the dedicated work and commitment of the Office of Maunakea Management, the Maunakea Management Board, and the Native Hawaiian Kahu Kū Mauna Council, on behalf of the University of Hawaiʻi and the Board of Regents; and

WHEREAS, subsequent to the adoption of the various plans, and with the understanding that collaborative stewardship will continue to be prioritized on all Maunakea lands, the university has now agreed to return approximately 10,000 acres of land on Maunakea that it currently leases that is not used for astronomy, to the State of Hawaiʻi; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the university take the steps that are necessary to expedite the return of the 10,000 acres to the State of Hawaiʻi in a timely manner and pursue a new lease or land tenure for the reduced acreage that will support the continued viability of astronomical research and education in the State; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the university work with the State, County of Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiian organizations, and the broader community to evolve collaborative and coherent management and stewardship plans that are consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan, and that are supported by appropriate administrative rules; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the university make it a priority, including through additional financial support, to meaningfully increase the engagement of Native Hawaiian students, Hawaiʻi Island residents, and residents of the State of Hawaiʻi in the areas of astronomy, celestial navigation and exploration; and that such initiatives include an active educational and outreach program that highlights indigenous knowledge as well as enhanced student access to and utilization of Maunakea-based astronomical resources in the field; and

The Board of Regents, through this Resolution, hereby affirms its commitment to the collaborative stewardship of Maunakea’s cultural, natural, educational and scientific resources, and directs the university to move forward to collaboratively build a global model of harmonious and inspirational stewardship that is befitting of Maunakea.