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Dr. Cynthia Froning of CASA was awarded a design study for a high resolution optical spectrograph to be part of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which when completed in 2014, will be the premiere ground based astronomical facility in the world. This represents CU's first foray into the world of ground based astronomical instrumentation at the world's largest facilities, and could open a whole new arena for our department should we successfully win the instrument contract.

Dr. Michael Shull was recently named as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a prestigious distinction.

New Worlds Observer Mission: Search for Terrestrial Planets. Attempts to design instruments capable of directly imaging and characterizing extrasolar terrestrial planets face a daunting challenge from the overwhelming glare of the parent star, which can outshine a planet by a factor of ten billion invisible light. Dr. Webster Cash of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences/CASA has proposed an innovative solution - dubbed the New Worlds Observer mission - that is currently under study by a team of researchers from both academia and industry.

In the New Worlds Observer concept two spacecraft, one a starshade and one a telescope, fly in formation tens of thousands of kilometers apart. The starshade, which looks somewhat like a daisy, has individual petals shaped to block starlight and allow only planet light to enter the telescope. With proper alignment of the two craft, an entire extrasolar planetary system could be studied at once. In addition to detecting terrestrial planets, repeated photometric observations offer the prospect of measuring planetary rotation rates and inferring the presence of oceans, continents, or clouds. Spectroscopic studies would reveal atmospheric components, distinguish between terrestrial and gas giant planets, and allow for searches for atmospheric biomarkers such as methane, water, oxygen and ozone. For more information see New Worlds Observer:A Novel Planet Finding Mission.


The department has received official permission to proceed with the final development of the Cosmis Origins Spectrograph in preparation for the Hubble servicing mission in December 2007. Following the servicing and installation of COS, the new Wide Field Camera III, and the possible repair of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS, currently non-functional), HST will be more capable than at any time in its history, and we are planning for operations through 2014.