Astronomers are known for dealing with massive objects such as big telescopes, giant galaxies, and exploding stars. However, one of the most revolutionary tools in astronomy today is a mini satellite the size of a breadbox. The CubeSat, as it is called, is set to act as an artificial star for astronomers to observe from the ground. This will enable them to more accurately measure the brightness of space objects and gain a better understanding of mysteries like dark energy.

NASA has recently approved the US$19.5 million Landolt Space Mission, aimed at launching the CubeSat into Earth’s orbit. This mini satellite is designed to orbit Earth from a distance of 22,236 miles, matching Earth’s spin speed and appearing fixed in the night sky. Despite not being visible to the naked eye, it will look like a star to telescopes. This mission, scheduled for 2029, represents a significant advancement, as it will be the first tool of its kind in astronomy.

Advantages of CubeSat

The CubeSat, named in honor of the late astronomer Arlo Landolt, will fire lasers with a specific number of photons to calibrate telescopes for measuring light. This approach will eliminate much of the guesswork involved in using real stars for calibration, as it is challenging to determine accurately how much light real stars emit. This issue is further complicated by Earth’s atmosphere absorbing light from space, affecting astronomers’ calibration efforts. The CubeSat will provide a reliable source of known light emission, aiding in precise measurements of objects like stars.

Potential Impact on Astronomy

The Landolt mission is expected to enhance astronomers’ ability to measure light emitted from stars with ten times more accuracy than current estimates. This improvement can be likened to receiving additional puzzle pieces to solve a puzzle more effectively. By catching minute details previously overlooked in data, astronomers using CubeSat will have a clearer understanding of celestial objects.

Exploring New Discoveries

Light is essential in the field of astronomy, providing valuable information about celestial bodies. For instance, the temperature and mass of a star, the types of exoplanets orbiting it, and the potential for hosting life can be determined from light measurements. By understanding the temperature of a host star, astronomers can identify the distance at which an exoplanet could support liquid water, a crucial factor in determining habitability. Identifying Earth-like planets and measuring light from distant supernovae using CubeSat will contribute to calculations regarding the expansion rate of the universe.

The expansion rate of the universe is a topic of great interest to cosmologists, yet they face challenges in establishing a definitive value due to varied estimation methods. The discrepancy in expansion rate values is vital in unraveling mysteries like dark energy, the invisible force thought to be responsible for the universe’s accelerating expansion. This highlights the significance of understanding the brightness and light emissions of stars, impacting discoveries ranging from small planets to the vast scale of the universe.

Through the innovative use of CubeSat technology, astronomers are poised to make significant advancements in their understanding of the cosmos, shedding light on longstanding mysteries and opening up new avenues of exploration in the field of astronomy.


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