2012-11-28

Spitzer precision

I spent the day at the Spitzer Science Center, where I continue to serve on the Spitzer Oversight Committee. Perhaps it isn't research but I sure do learn a lot at these meetings. Among the many remarkable things I learned is that in the Warm Mission, the Spitzer IRAC instrument continues to get more precise with time. This is unusual for an aging, distant space observatory! The reason is that exoplanet observers are feeding systematic noise information back to the instrument team, who are working to implement hardware, software, and observation-planning changes. Right now the instrument is working at tens-of-micromagnitudes precision (parts in 105), which has permitted it to measure transits of Earth-sized exoplanets.

Over dinner, we discussed my long-term fantasy of hijacking a decommissioned satellite (any satellites coming to end-of-life in the next few years?) and setting it up as an autonomous, intelligent observer, saving on operations and telemetry by having it phone home only when it has something interesting to say.

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