BYU Astronomy Research Group Joins the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC)

As of January 2021 BYU will be a member of the ARC Consortium (Link to Consortium) with access to the ARC 3.5-m telescope and the 0.5-m ARCSAT telescope.  The primary use of the ARC 3.5-m telescope time is for graduate student projects.  This provides a wide array of instrumentation that is currently being used to study objects in the solar system all the way to studies of the large scale structure of the Universe.

Other BYU Astronomy Facilities

In addition to our telescope time from the ARC consortium, we operate a number of our own astronomical facilities

West Mountain Observatory (West Mountain)

This is our mountain observatory at about 6600 ft above sea level.  This consists of three telescopes: 0.9-m, 0.5-m, and a 0.32-m. It is a 40 minute drive that ends in a 5 miles drive up a dirt road. The mountain itself can be seen from campus. We don't provide any tours of this facility.

Orson Pratt Observatory

The Orson Pratt Observatory is named for an early apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It is our campus telescope facility and contains a wide variety of telescopes for student research and public outreach. We operate a 24" PlaneWave telescope in the main campus dome, plus a 16", two 12", one 8", and a 6" telescope on our observation deck.  The telescopes are all fully robotic. Beyond this we have a large sections of telescopes used on public nights.

Royden G. Derrick Planetarium (Planetarium)

This is a 119 seat, 39" dome planetarium with acoustically treated walls to allow it's use as a lecture room. Recently we upgraded to an E&S Digistar7 operating system with 4K projectors.  The planetarium is used for teaching classes, public outreach, and astronomy education research projects.





Selected Publications

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BYU Authors: Darin A. Ragozzine, published in Astron. J.
We present the discovery of a long-term stable L5 (trailing) Neptune Trojan in data acquired to search for candidate trans-Neptunian objects for the New Horizons spacecraft to fly by during an extended post-Pluto mission. This Neptune Trojan, 2011 HM102, has the highest inclination (29 degrees.4) of any known member of this population. It is intrinsically brighter than any single L5 Jupiter Trojan at H-V similar to 8.18. We have determined its gri colors (a first for any L5 Neptune Trojan), which we find to be similar to the moderately red colors of the L4 Neptune Trojans, suggesting similar surface properties for members of both Trojan clouds. We also present colors derived from archival data for two L4 Neptune Trojans (2006 RJ(103) and 2007 VL305), better refining the overall color distribution of the population. In this document we describe the discovery circumstances, our physical characterization of 2011 HM102, and this object's implications for the Neptune Trojan population overall. Finally, we discuss the prospects for detecting 2011 HM102 from the New Horizons spacecraft during its close approach in mid- to late-2013.
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BYU Authors: Darin Ragozzine, published in Astrophys. J.
NASA's Kepler Mission has revealed two transiting planets orbiting Kepler-68. Follow-up Doppler measurements have established the mass of the innermost planet and revealed a third Jovian-mass planet orbiting beyond the two transiting planets. Kepler-68b, in a 5.4 day orbit, has M-P = 8.3(-2.4)(+2.2) M-circle plus, R-P = 2.31(-0.09)(+0.06) R-circle plus, and rho(P) = 3.32(-0.98)(+0.86) g cm(-3), giving Kepler-68b a density intermediate between that of the ice giants and Earth. Kepler-68c is Earth-sized, with a radius R-P = 0.953(-0.042)(+0.037) R-circle plus and transits on a 9.6 day orbit; validation of Kepler-68c posed unique challenges. Kepler-68d has an orbital period of 580 +/- 15 days and a minimum mass of M-P sin i = 0.947 +/- 0.035M(J). Power spectra of the Kepler photometry at one minute cadence exhibit a rich and strong set of asteroseismic pulsation modes enabling detailed analysis of the stellar interior. Spectroscopy of the star coupled with asteroseismic modeling of the multiple pulsation modes yield precise measurements of stellar properties, notably T-eff = 5793 +/- 74 K, M-star = 1.079 +/- 0.051 M-circle dot, R-star = 1.243 +/- 0.019 R-circle dot, and rho(star) = 0.7903 +/- 0.0054 g cm(-3), all measured with fractional uncertainties of only a few percent. Models of Kepler-68b suggest that it is likely composed of rock and water, or has a H and He envelope to yield its density similar to 3 g cm(-3).
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BYU Authors: Darin Ragozzine, published in Nature
Since the discovery of the first exoplanets(1,2), it has been known that other planetary systems can look quite unlike our own(3). Until fairly recently, we have been able to probe only the upper range of the planet size distribution(4,5), and, since last year, to detect planets that are the size of Earth(6) or somewhat smaller(7). Hitherto, no planets have been found that are smaller than those we see in the Solar System. Here we report a planet significantly smaller than Mercury(8). This tiny planet is the innermost of three that orbit the Sun-like host star, which we have designated Kepler-37. Owing to its extremely small size, similar to that of the Moon, and highly irradiated surface, the planet, Kepler-37b, is probably rocky with no atmosphere or water, similar to Mercury.
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BYU Authors: Darin Ragozzine, published in Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser.
New transiting planet candidates are identified in 16 months (2009 May-2010 September) of data from the Kepler spacecraft. Nearly 5000 periodic transit-like signals are vetted against astrophysical and instrumental false positives yielding 1108 viable new planet candidates, bringing the total count up to over 2300. Improved vetting metrics are employed, contributing to higher catalog reliability. Most notable is the noise-weighted robust averaging of multiquarter photo-center offsets derived from difference image analysis that identifies likely background eclipsing binaries. Twenty-two months of photometry are used for the purpose of characterizing each of the candidates. Ephemerides (transit epoch, T-0, and orbital period, P) are tabulated as well as the products of light curve modeling: reduced radius (R-P / R-star), reduced semimajor axis (d / R-star), and impact parameter (b). The largest fractional increases are seen for the smallest planet candidates (201% for candidates smaller than 2R(circle plus). compared to 53% for candidates larger than 2R.) and those at longer orbital periods (124% for candidates outside of 50 day orbits versus 86% for candidates inside of 50 day orbits). The gains are larger than expected from increasing the observing window from 13 months (Quarters 1-5) to 16 months (Quarters 1-6) even in regions of parameter space where one would have expected the previous catalogs to be complete. Analyses of planet frequencies based on previous catalogs will be affected by such incompleteness. The fraction of all planet candidate host stars with multiple candidates has grown from 17% to 20%, and the paucity of short-period giant planets in multiple systems is still evident. The progression toward smaller planets at longer orbital periods with each new catalog release suggests that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone are forthcoming if, indeed, such planets are abundant.
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BYU Authors: Darin Ragozzine, published in Astrophys. J.
We present a study of the relative sizes of planets within the multiple-candidate systems discovered with the Kepler mission. We have compared the size of each planet to the size of every other planet within a given planetary system after correcting the sample for detection and geometric biases. We find that for planet pairs for which one or both objects are approximately Neptune-sized or larger, the larger planet is most often the planet with the longer period. No such size-location correlation is seen for pairs of planets when both planets are smaller than Neptune. Specifically, if at least one planet in a planet pair has a radius of greater than or similar to 3R(circle plus), 68% +/- 6% of the planet pairs have the inner planet smaller than the outer planet, while no preferred sequential ordering of the planets is observed if both planets in a pair are smaller than less than or similar to 3 R-circle plus.
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BYU Authors: Darin Ragozzine, published in Astrophys. J.
We measure the mass and radius of the star and planet in the TrES-2 system using 2.7 years of observations by the Kepler spacecraft. The light curve shows evidence for ellipsoidal variations and Doppler beaming on a period consistent with the orbital period of the planet with amplitudes of 2.79(-0.62)(+0.44) and 3.44(-0.37)(+0.32) parts per million (ppm), respectively, and a difference between the dayside and the nightside planetary flux of 3.41(-0.82)(+0.55) ppm. We present an asteroseismic analysis of solar-like oscillations on TrES-2A which we use to calculate the stellar mass of 0.94 +/- 0.05 M-circle dot and radius of 0.95 +/- 0.02 R-circle dot. Using these stellar parameters, a transit model fit and the phase-curve variations, we determine the planetary radius of 1.162(-0.024)(+0.020) R-Jup and derive a mass for TrES-2b from the photometry of 1.44 +/- 0.21 M-Jup. The ratio of the ellipsoidal variation to the Doppler beaming amplitudes agrees to better than 2 sigma with theoretical predications, while our measured planet mass and radius agree within 2s of previously published values based on spectroscopic radial velocity measurements. We measure a geometric albedo of 0.0136(-0.0033)(+0.0022) and an occultation (secondary eclipse) depth of 6.5(-1.8)(+1.7) ppm which we combined with the day/night planetary flux ratio to model the atmosphere of TrES-2b. We find that an atmosphere model that contains a temperature inversion is strongly preferred. We hypothesize that the Kepler bandpass probes a significantly greater atmospheric depth on the night side relative to the day side.