Imaging planets that could potentially sustain life around nearby stars has become a possibility thanks to advances reported by an international team of astronomers in the journal Nature Communications. Using a newly developed system for mid-infrared exoplanet imaging in combination with a very long observation time, they achieved the capability of directly imaging planets about three times the size of Earth within the habitable zones of nearby stars. This experiment, called NEAR (Near Earths in the AlphaCen Region), was performed using VISIR, a mid-infrared instrument built by the Astrophysical Department of CEA-IRFU. The VISIR camera has been adapted to a 8m large telescope VLT UT4 (Yepun) in Chile, with a specific star-light blocking device and a a built-in adaptive optics sytems to correct for the atmospheric turbulence. A potential Neptune-to Saturn-sized planet orbiting Alpha Centauri may have been pinpointed but still requires further confirmation.
See the video : Breakthrough Watch/NEAR
The American Institute of Physics announced the astrophysicist Catherine Cesarsky as the recipient of the 2020 John Torrence Tate Prize for her major international role in leading major astronomical observatories and other prestigious organizations such as the International Astronomical Union. Named after the celebrated American physicist John Torrence Tate (1889-1950), the Tate medal was established in 1959 and is awarded every two years to non-U.S. citizens for their leadership, research contributions, and service to the international physics community.
Catherine Cesarsky, High Commissioner for Atomic Energy from 2009 to 2012 and today High Scientific Advisor to the General Administrator, headed the Department of Astrophysics at CEA from 1985 to 1993, then the direction of all CEA basic research in physics and chemistry from 1994 to 1999. She served as the director general of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) from 1999 to 2007 where she notably supervised the end of construction and the commissioning of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). She chaired the International Astronomical Union (IAU) from 2006 to 2009 and has just been appointed on February 3, 2021 to head the Council of the Square Kilometer Array Observatory, the world's largest radio telescope under construction in Australia and South Africa.
Catherine Cesarsky will be presented with the Tate medal during a plenary session of the European Astronomical Society Annual Meeting, to be held in virtual form in Leiden (Netherlands), in June 2021.
Nearly 200 researchers were involved in collecting, processing and assembling images of half the sky to prepare for the start of observations by DESI, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, which aims to solve the mystery of dark energy.
In order for DESI to begin its 5-year mission (2021-2026) to produce the largest 3D sky map ever made, researchers first needed a gigantic 2D map of the Universe. Based on 200,000 images from 1405 nights of observations on three telescopes and several years of satellite data, this 2D map is the largest ever produced, based on the area of sky covered, the depth of the imagery and the more than one billion images of galaxies it contains.