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Canada's MOST Space Telescope Celebrates its 5th Anniversary in Orbit

Press Release From: Canadian Space Agency
Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2008

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Launched on June 20, 2003, the MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of STars) space telescope continues to wow its creators.

"After five years in space, MOST is still enabling wondrous space discoveries on a daily basis," said Dr. Jaymie Matthews, MOST Mission Scientist and astrophysics professor at the University of British Columbia. "While MOST is only five years old, it is actually entering middle age in a life of exploration that was supposed to last only 12 months."

The size of a suitcase, with a cost of $10 million, MOST was nicknamed the "Humble Space Telescope" by its creators. Its accomplishments, however, have been anything but modest. It was originally intended to probe the hidden interiors of stars through their vibrations by a technique called asteroseismology.

"We're literally listening to the music of the stars," explains Matthews. "It's like using a space telescope as an interstellar iPod."

Those measurements have already turned up important results about the nature of stars, sending many theorists back to their computer screens to revise stellar models.

MOST has turned out to be a precocious child. The team of scientists and engineers--located from coast to coast across Canada and at Harvard University and in Vienna, Austria--has extended the capabilities of this "little telescope that could" to explore exoplanets; that is, alien worlds orbiting around other stars.

MOST has measured the properties of several of these planets, which are invisible even to the largest telescopes. Among the findings: a planet whose atmosphere is either so clear or so hazy that it reflects only 4% of the light it receives from its parent sun. "Who could have imagined a planet darker than charcoal, whose sun is 400 times brighter in its sky than our Sun, except possibly a science fiction writer?" asked Matthews. "MOST has turned me into a real estate agent for science fiction and fantasy writers. The exoplanetary systems we are studying will be the settings of future novels and movies."

The space telescope has also undertaken the search for exoEarths around other stars, pioneering the path for other space missions like the French CoRoT satellite and the NASA Kepler project. Data collected by MOST reveals the unexpected influences of planets on their host stars, bringing new insights into the formation of our Solar System and the weather and climate of planet Earth.

Over 20 scientific papers have been published by the MOST team in the past 18 months alone, and even more by other scientists who have access to MOST data that have been made public. Matthews put together a Top Ten List of MOST's greatest accomplishments, which outlines some of the scientific and aerospace breakthroughs of the mission and its technology.

Last year, the MOST Science Team launched a contest for all Canadians. Canadian stargazers have the opportunity to submit observing projects for MOST, renamed "My Own Space Telescope" for the event. The best proposals will be selected and the MOST Science Team will analyze the results with the winners to publish them in scientific journals. The first round of successful proposals should be announced later this summer.

MOST is a Canadian Space Agency mission led by the principal investigator, Dr. Jaymie Matthews, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of British Columbia. The satellite is jointly operated by Dynacon Enterprises Limited, the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), and the University of British Columbia, with the assistance of the University of Vienna. Other key partners include: the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Technology (CRESTech) of Toronto; the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) (both Canadian and U.S. chapters); AeroAstro Inc. of Ashburn, Virginia; Spectral Applied Research; Routes AstroEngineering; the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC); and a team of consulting scientists from across Canada and the United States.

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