PicSat, unravelling the Beta-Pictoris Star System

PicSat is well on the way to being launched during the ISILaunch21 campaign. The 3U cubesat, carrying a 5cm telescope and sensitive photodiode as payload, has been fully integrated and tested, and has now been delivered for shipping to India.

PicSat

The PicSat project started in 2014, when it was predicted that the very young exoplanet Beta-Pictoris b could be transiting in front of its equally young star, Beta-Pictoris, between the summer of 2017 and the summer of 2018. Without the knowledge of when exactly the transit could take place, a dedicated space observatory is the only hope of catching this important event. A small team from the High Angular Resolution Astronomy group at the LESIA laboratory of the Paris Observatory in Meudon, France, in collaboration with the Space Campus CCERES and the PSL Research University, took on the challenge to build such an observatory: PicSat!

Beta-Pictoris is the first star that was discovered to have a massive disk of debris, left-overs from its formation. Because the star is so young, only 20 million years, and so bright and close the Sun, only 63.4 lightyears, it has drawn much attention from astrophysicists. It is a unique system to study star and planet formation, and edge-on viewing angle on the debris disk adds to this uniqueness.

In 2009, a giant planet about 7 times the mass of Jupiter, was discovered to orbit Beta-Pictoris. The determination of its orbit showed that it will most likely transit its star in 2017-2018. If not the planet, then the planet’s sphere of influence, of Hill Sphere will transit. Either event will be visible in the form of a dip in the star’s brightness that can last for several hours, or even months in the case of a Hill Sphere transit. Accurate observation of this event will help gain significant new insights into star and planet formation.
Other than the planet, abundant comets in the star system with their huge atmospheres and tails have been observed using spectroscopy to transit Beta-Pictoris.

PicSat, once in orbit around Earth, will monitor the star’s brightness continuously in order to try and detect any transit events.
PicSat team

Visit the PicSat website at picsat.obspm.fr for more information and follow PicSat at Twitter (@IamPicSat) and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbVE3QEJO74NbJ-tHtThHpg)

Financial support for the PicSat project comes from the European Research Council (ERC), under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Lithium proposal 639248), the CNRS, the ESEP Laboratory Group, the PSL Research University, the Fondation MERAC, the CNES, CCERES and the Observatoire de Paris – LESIA.