MOST opens its eye

Canada's first space telescope begins observing the cosmos.
By | Published: August 16, 2003
The Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars (MOST) mission will study stellar interiors, the age of the universe, and extrasolar planets. It launched on June 30, 2003. It orbits 820 kilometers (roughly 500 miles) above Earth’s surface and circles Earth once every 100 minutes.
Canadian Space Agency / University of British Columbia / H. R. MacMillan Space Centre
August 16, 2003
On June 30, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) successfully launched its first space telescope into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. A little over a month after its launch, the Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars (MOST) satellite has captured “first light.”

With MOST circling Earth at almost 16,775 miles (27,000 kilometers) per hour, scientists and engineers from the aerospace company Dynacon Inc. and the Universities of Toronto and British Columbia directed the satellite to open the door that protects the telescope. As starlight hit MOST’s electronic detectors, the scope successfully imaged a star. Team members were relieved by the performance of the optics and electronics.

“One of my worst nightmares was having our superb instrument blind behind a stuck door,” explains University of British Columbia astronomer Jaymie Matthews. “This is just another in a series of successful milestones which are a testament to the skills of all the Canadian hardware and software engineers on the MOST team.”

Astronomers will use MOST to study the age and composition of stars by monitoring pulses in starlight. Vibrations in starlight are influenced by the make-up of a star and the star’s age. Observing these fluctuations from MOST’s lofty vantage point will give astronomers an unhampered view that they can’t achieve with ground-based scopes due to Earth’s interfering atmosphere.

Due to the scope’s petite size (comparable to that of a suitcase), CSA members have nicknamed MOST the “Humble Space Telescope.” Not only small in stature, the satellite cost $10 million Canadian ($7.2 million U.S.) — a modest amount for this type of endeavor. While the scope may not be large in size and cost, MOST will greatly impact Canadian space research.

“Canadians can be proud that we have built the world’s smallest space telescope, an instrument that helps us better understand our universe by looking at neighboring stars,” states Marc Garneau, president of the CSA.