SAAO to observe beta Pictoris

beta Pictoris, the second brightest start in the constellation Pictor and the SAAO team working on the bRing project

The second brightest star, beta Pictoris in the constellation Pictor, which is located 63,4 light years from the solar system will be robotically observed for 200 days at the SA Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland, Northern Cape.  With a luminosity that is equal to the Sun, the beta Pictoris caught the attention of astronomers after its brightness diminished in 1981. According to astronomers, there must have been a huge object passing in front of the star, when the giant planet Pictoris b, was discovered in 2008.

From April 2017 to January 2018, astronomers will observe beta Pictoris to detect rings from the planet beta Pictoris b, using a small robotic all sky monitor with two camera systems. Known as beta Pictoris b Ring project (bRing for short), the first light image of bRing proves that the instrument is ready for observations.

This year, the planet will move again in front of the star and pass almost directly between the star and us. If the planet has a ring system, we may be able to see the shadows of giant rings surrounding the planet, if and when they move into our line of sight.

The images taken by the cameras will be analysed on a set of computers inside bRing and will monitor any changes in the brightness of beta Pictoris. If a change in brightness is detected, this will allow the triggering of a host of observations using larger telescopes and more advanced instrumentation to study the details of the suspected ring system in-depth. Blaine Lomberg, UCT and SAAO PhD student, will trigger observations with the High Resolution Spectrograph on the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) to see if a transit of the ring system is detected to determine the composition of the rings.

Dr. Steve Crawford who is among the team who worked on the installation of bRing in Sutherland says, “In addition to monitoring beta Pictoris, bRing will also provide regular monitoring of the southern sky and the conditions of the night sky at the Sutherland observatory. The data will be available to astronomers in South Africa allowing them to search for new phenomena and also monitoring the performance of their own observations.”

The bRing project, is funded by NOVA and Leiden University, enabled by a collaboration grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Department of Science and Technology’s entity, the National Research Foundation (NRF). South African astronomers will host the bRing instrument that was built by Leiden astronomers Matthew Kenworthy, Remko Stuik, John I. Bailey III and Patrick Dorval and hosted by the South African astronomer Steve Crawford and Blaine Lomberg of SAAO.

For more information please contact:

Blaine Lomberg

Cell: 061 957 6358

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Dr. Steve Crawford

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