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NASA EPSCoR to fund planetary seismology research at NMSU

New Mexico NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) has awarded a grant of $749,893 to New Mexico State University astronomers for research to be conducted over the next three years.

Patrick Gaulme is part of an international team of researchers that has received funding to develop an instrument that will be attached to the one-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory, owned and operated by NMSU. (Photo by Arl L. Cope)

Jason Jackiewicz and Patrick Gaulme are leading an international team of researchers working on the ?Jovian Interiors from Velocimetry Experiment (JIVE) in New Mexico,? to develop a ground-based instrument that will measure oscillations on Jupiter. The instrument will be attached to the one-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory, owned and operated by NMSU. Its results could help understand the inner structure and composition of the planet and the solar system?s development. The installation of the instrument could make NMSU a hub for planetary seismology, says Gaulme.

?One of the main questions in planetary astronomy is how did the solar system form, how did the planets form and then evolve,? Gaulme said. ?Jupiter is the most massive planet, it represents 70 percent of the mass in the solar system (apart from the sun). Giant planets like Jupiter or Saturn are mostly fluid (they contain no solid surface), which makes their seismology much closer to that of the sun than that of Earth. I started to work on the prototype of this instrument while doing my Ph.D.

?We are also going to study the wind circulation on Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The circulation of planets is usually obtained by taking pictures of the planet and measuring the shift of clouds from one picture to the next, but clouds evolve constantly. It?s not very accurate. With JIVE, we?d be able to measure the instantaneous speed of the clouds.?

The JIVE instrument would measure Jovian oscillations and, for the first time, determine the interior structure and composition of Jupiter and Saturn to better understand their dynamic atmospheres. Researchers also will determine Jupiter?s wind speeds and compare them to cloud-tracking results.

The goal of NASA EPSCoR is to provide funding to enable New Mexico to develop academic research directed toward long-term, self-sustaining, nationally competitive capabilities in aerospace and aerospace-related research. EPSCoR contributes to the overall research infrastructure, science and technology capabilities, higher education and economic development of New Mexico.

?In their comments about the proposal, NASA reviewers cited the project?s strong alignment with their plans for planetary exploration and the importance of the proposed low-cost approach by NMSU to use ground-based support to enable verification of NASA?s Juno mission space observation data,? said Patricia Hynes, New Mexico NASA EPSCoR director. ?The Juno mission to Jupiter will help us understand the origins of our planetary system and help us learn more about how the newly discovered planetary systems have formed.?

Among the group of researchers are Jackiewicz, associate professor of astronomy in NMSU?s College of Arts and Sciences and project principal investigator; Gaulme, Apache Point Observatory astronomer; David Voelz, NMSU engineering professor; Raul Morales-Juberias, New Mexico Tech physics professor; Didier Saumon, Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist; and NASA scientists Mark Marley, Neil Murphy and Amy Simon.

Counterparts working at the Nice Observatory in the French Riviera will be involved as well. They include Francois Xavier Schmider, who is working to obtain European funding to build additional instruments. Jean-Baptiste Daban and Tristan Guillot. In addition, Thierry Appourchaux, scientist at the Institut d?Astrophysique Spatiale in Paris area, will help analyze the data.

Additionally, the grant will provide funding to employ three graduate students and two to six undergraduates. Students will be involved in all aspects of the project and will work alongside the PIs in the optics lab, computer lab and at the observatory after the instrument is installed.

Gaulme was part of a team of French researchers that developed the prototype of a similar device, the Doppler Spectro-Imager. The proposed device will be designed after DSI, with some modifications. Gaulme was a postdoctoral scholar of Jackiewicz?s after completing his doctorate at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris.

?Dr. Gaulme is the key member who brings years of planetary seismology expertise to the project, and with his strong collaboration with our French science partners, New Mexico will be ready to ?JIVE? in the very near future,? Jackiewicz said.

Over the next six months, PIs will begin to hire students to assist in the project and collaborators will travel to France to study the prototype. The instrument is expected to be installed by the end of the second year, with observations beginning in the third year.

?There?s an opportunity to make New Mexico the central place for planetary seismology,? Gaulme said. ?It?s really an international collaboration. The design comes from France and they built the core part. The optics assembly will be conducted by the NMSU electrical engineering department. By the end of the year we?ll have a kickoff meeting at NMSU.?