Some of the smallest satellites ever launched will soon start unlocking the secrets of the largest starts in our Universe. These satellites, no bigger than a car battery, are designed to observe some of the most luminous stars in the night sky including the massive blue stars that are the precursors to supernova explosions. To do this, astronomers will use these satellites to observe a star’s surface vibrations caused by processes occurring deep inside a star in a similar way a geophysicist uses seismic waves to probe our Earth’s interior. These stars are important as some of them generate the heavy elements needed to give birth to new generations of stars and planets. In fact, our solar system was made from elements produced by earlier generations of similar massive luminous stars.
The BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) Constellation is a collection of six satellites that operate in pairs. Each pair was designed and made by the three participating nations in this project: Canada, Australia and Poland. They each measure the size of a 20 centimeter cube weighing no more than 8 kilograms, making them about the size and weight of the average car battery. By equipping each satellite with Charged Coupled Devices or CCD cameras with one camera having a red filter and the other a blue one, scientists can not only observe stars with an average temperature of 10,000 Kelvin making these stars among the hottest and brightest in our sky but can also better detect variations in stellar output as well as the reasons behind that variation.
There are some very compelling reasons for launching theses satellites into space rather than build earth based observatories. Atmospheric turbulence, weather, the day-night cycle of our planet perturb ground based observations, making readings less precise. A space based system can avoid all that and while the satellites are small in size, they are a cost-effective solution to astrophysical research.
You can visit the BRITE Constellation page to learn more.