The US Space Agency has scheduled a press conference where scientists will present new findings revealing a ‘discovery beyond our solar system’.
According to NASA, the secretive event, will ‘present new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets’.
While no one is still sure what exactly NASA will talk about, many argue that the space agency could reveal details of exoplanets capable of hosting life, or that astronomers have even discovered Earth’s clone.
The event is scheduled to take place on February 22, at 1pm New York Time. The announcement will also be streamed live on NASA’s television station and their website.
Internet users will be able to send their questions via social networks, through the #askNASA hashtag. The press conference will be held at the agency’s headquarters, located at 300 E Street, SW, Washington, USA.
The agency will also hold a Reddit AMA, or ask me anything, session straight after the briefing.
The briefing participants are:
- Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington
- Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium
- Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC, Pasadena, California
- Nikole Lewis, astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore
- Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
While no one knows exactly what NASA will announce, the space agency has said that scientists from the Spitzer Telescope will be present during the event.
The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) is an infrared space telescope launched in 2003. The SST carries three instruments on board: the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) and the Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS). As one of its most noteworthy observations, in 2005, SST became the first telescope to directly capture light from exoplanets, namely the “hot Jupiters” HD 209458 b and TrES-1b, although it did not resolve that light into actual images.
On 1 October 2016, Spitzer began its Observation Cycle 13, a 2 1⁄2 year extended mission nicknamed Beyond. The SST has been tweaked so the space telescope could more accurately study exoplanets.
According to NASA’s Sean Carey, “We never even considered using Spitzer for studying exoplanets when it launched. … It would have seemed ludicrous back then, but now it’s an important part of what Spitzer does.”
Examples of exoplanets discovered using Spitzer include HD 219134 b in 2015, which was shown to be a rocky planet about 1.5 times as large as Earth in a three-day orbit around its star and an unnamed planet found using microlensing located about 13,000 light-years (4,000 pc) from Earth.
Spitzer often works together with ground-based telescopes, like the OGLE’s Warsaw Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.