Chair: Dan Reisenfeld
A Dedicated Exoplanet Observatory
Project Minerva will be an array of small-aperture robotic telescopes outfitted for both photometry and high-resolution spectroscopy. It will be the first U.S. observatory dedicated to exoplanetary science capable of both precise radial velocimetry and transit studies. The multi-telescope concept will be implemented to either observe separate targets or a single target with a larger effective aperture. The flexibility of the observatory will maximize scientific potential and also provide ample opportunities for education and public outreach. The University of Montana, funded by a NASA EPSCoR grant, will own and operate one of the 0.7m telescopes in the Minerva array. Exoplanet research at Minerva will be carried out by faculty and student researchers at the University of Montana in collaboration with partner institutions.
The primary science goal of Minerva is to discover Earth-like planets in close-in (less than 50-day) orbits around nearby stars, and super-Earths (3-15 times the mass of Earth) in the habitable zones of the closest Sun-like stars. The secondary goal will be to look for transits (eclipses) of known and newly-discovered extrasolar planets, which provide information about the radii and interior structures of the planets. This second goal uses the proven method used by the Kepler Mission, and the unique design of the Minerva observatory allows us to pursue both goals simultaneously.
Minerva represents an enormous increase in the engagement of UM undergraduate students in front-line astronomical research. The UM telescope in the Minerva array will be the only professional research observatory among Montana colleges and universities. Minerva will provide significant new opportunities for active learning. We will train undergraduates on modern instrumentation by incorporating Minerva research into our advanced observing lab course; in all 10% of telescope time will be dedicated to educational activities. Students will work on all aspects of exoplanet science, generating publishable original undergraduate research and significantly enhancing the preparation of UM students for graduate study in astronomy.
As public funding of science programs diminishes, private support provides the resources needed to advance scientific frontiers. We are grateful for the generosity of individuals, corporations and foundations that recognize the value of astronomical research and education. Donations of cash are the simplest and most direct way to support Minerva. Every gift, no matter what size, is greatly appreciated.
To help support Minerva, complete the Minerva Donation Form and mail it to:
The University of Montana Foundation
PO Box 7159
Missoula, Montana 59807-7159
A formal acknowledgment will be mailed to you.
Commissioning underway fromPenn State telescope in Pasadena, CA.
UM telescope has been fundined by a grant from NASA.
Site evaluation is underway.
4 x 0.7m telescopes within 2 custom enclosures.
2k x 2k back illuminated CCD with 15µm pixels offering . 20' field of view.
R=75,000echelle spectrograph with iodine cell for precise radial velometry.
University of Montana
Pennsylvania State University
Univ. of New Soth Wales