November 3, 2017

CU Boulder leading team building tiny satellite to probe 'hot Jupiters'

Charlie Brennan
The Daily Camera

A team led by the University of Colorado has been chosen to build a tiny orbiting satellite to study the evaporating atmospheres of gigantic "hot Jupiters," distant gaseous planets orbiting close to their parent stars.

According to Assistant Professor Kevin France, of CU's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, more than 100 gas giants to date have been discovered orbiting very close to their parent stars. France is lead scientist on the four-year, $3.3 million effort, to be funded by NASA.

France and his colleagues believe the new study of hot Jupiters — some of them so close to parent stars that they orbit them in only a matter of days — will give planetary scientists better understanding of the solar system's evolution, according to a news release.

The CU team is building a CubeSat satellite called the Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment, only about the size of a shoebox, which will carry an ultraviolet telescope. The UV region of the spectrum was chosen for study, France said, because it is a "sweet spot" both for star brightness as well as finding heavy elements.

A news release states that France hopes the team studies between 12 and 20 hot Jupiters during the primary mission, expected to launch in early 2020 and to last eight months to a year.

The CUTE team includes researchers from the University of Arizona; the Space Research Institute of the American Academy of Science in Graz, Austria; Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland; the University of Toulouse in France, and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Additionally, France's team also is teaming with Boulder's Blue Canyon Technologies, which is tasked with building the platform housing the CUTE payload.