University soars to cosmic heights SPENCER AFONSO
A group of satellites launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India on February 25 included a toaster-sized telescope from the University of Toronto. Dubbed a nano-satellite for its distinctly small size, the telescope was assembled at the University of Toronto Space Flight Laboratory, a campus-based research partner with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

As part of the BRITE project (Bright Target Explorer), the satellite will measure changes in brightness of the brightest stars in our galaxy. Studying these stars from space allows constant observation, without breaks for the night and day rotation that affects earthly observation devices. This will allow the satellite to measure the stars’ brilliance uninterrupted for extended periods of time. This is the same advantage enjoyed by the Hubble Space Telescope, which also orbits the earth. These devices can operate without the obstruction of earth’s atmosphere, which can distort light from distant objects.

Although the Space Flight Laboratory only built one of the devices, all six aboard the launch vessel were conceived utilizing the same technology, first developed by U of T Emeritus Professor of Astronomy, Slavek Rucinski.

In response to the newspaper’s inquiries, Rucinski noted that he has been working on the technology behind these satellites since 1997. Rucinski sought funding for the project from the CSA for years, stating that, “I kept submitting my proposal every year and every year I received words of support, but no funds.” He passed the technology on to researchers in Austria, who were granted money by the Austrian government in 2008. Ultimately, in 2011 the CSA allocated funding for the project.

In studying the brightest stars in the galaxy, Rucinski stated that “bright stars in the sky are on average the largest and most massive.” He went on to explain that “all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were produced in massive stars.” This includes us and our planet. Studying these stars will further develop our understanding of the structure and evolution of massive stars and, by consequence, the origins of rocky planets.

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  • Subtitle: U of T launches satellite-telescope to study brightest stars
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