Stellar Dust Survey Paves Way for Exoplanet Missions

Veils of dust wrapped around distant stars could make it
difficult for scientists to find potentially habitable planets
in those star systems.
The Hunt for Observable Signatures of
Terrestrial Systems, or HOSTS, survey was
tasked with learning
more about the effect of dust on the search for new worlds.
The goal is to help guide the design of future planet-hunting
missions. In a
new paper published in the Astrophysical
Journal, HOSTS scientists report on
the survey’s initial
findings.

Using the Large
Binocular Telescope Interferometer
, or
LBTI, on Mount Graham in
Arizona, the HOSTS survey determines
the brightness of warm dust floating in
the orbital planes of
other stars (called exozodiacal dust). In particular, HOSTS
has studied dust in nearby stars’ habitable zones, where liquid
water could
exist on the surface of a planet. The LBTI is five
to 10 times more sensitive
than the previous telescope capable
of detecting exozodiacal dust, the Keck
Interferometer Nuller.

Among the findings detailed in the new paper, the HOSTS
scientists
report that a majority of Sun-like stars in their
survey do not possess high
levels of dust — good news for
future efforts to study potentially-habitable planets
around
those stars. A final report on the full HOSTS survey results is
expected
early next year.

More information about the new findings from HOSTS and the
search for Earthlike planets beyond our solar system is
available in
this
news release from the University of Arizona
.

The LBTI is funded by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program
office and managed by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena,
California. JPL is a division of Caltech, also in
Pasadena. Six JPL scientists
co-authored the new research
paper. The LBTI is an international collaboration
among
institutions in the U.S., Italy and Germany, and it is managed
and
headquartered at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

NASA is taking a multifaceted
approach

to finding and studying planets outside our solar
system. On April 18, NASA
launched its newest planet-hunting
observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey
Satellite (TESS),
which is expected to find thousands of new exoplanets, mostly
around stars smaller than our Sun.

News Media Contact

Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-1821
Calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

Doug Carroll
University of Arizona, Tucson
520-621-9017
dougcarroll@email.arizona.edu

2018-080