Astronomy and Astrophysics

Unistellar, France’s Largest Crowdfunded Technology Project, will be at Vivatech

Marseille and San Francisco, May 17. Citizen astronomy is coming to Vivatech! After its record-breaking crowdfunding campaign, the largest technology campaign in French history and one of the biggest ever seen in Europe, Unistellar will be at Vivatech 2018 to display its eVscope, a revolutionary digital telescope that is 100 times more powerful than conventional telescopes.

Founded in 2015 in Marseille and with offices in San Francisco, Unistellar is on a mission: allow everyone, everywhere—whether they’re downtown or in the remote countryside—to look deeply into the night sky, feel the sense of wonder this view has always created in human beings and share it with friends and relatives. “The eVscope is much more than a very friendly telescope that turns amateur astronomy into popular astronomy. Thanks to a radically new hybrid digital/optical system, it gives viewers access to amazing views of the universe normally accessible only from telescopes many times its size,” explained Antonin Borot, Chief of Optical Engineering at Unistellar.

Unistellar has invented and deployed a proprietary technology, relying on a low-light sensor, that accumulates light through a series of short exposures, making it possible to view live through its eyepiece the beautiful colors and shapes of galaxies and nebulae usually invisible through a regular or even a high-end telescope.

The eVscope is a user-friendly device that can recognize any astronomical object, guide people to them, and is controllable from a smartphone.  There is more, thanks to Unistellar’s partnership with SETI Institute, it is also a powerful scientific instrument: users can join observation campaigns run by leading astronomers to view stunning events like supernovae, comets or asteroid occultations, while they generate valuable new data for scientists around the world.

"We recently demonstrated the eVscope’s potential by observing and recording, from a location near Marseille, a stellar occultation by an asteroid," said Franck Marchis, Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar and Senior Astronomer at SETI Institute. "By combining our observation with two others made by amateur astronomers, we were able to estimate the shape and size of the main-belt asteroid (175) Andromache. This is an incredible first scientific result for our small but very mighty telescope.”

Last November, Unistellar made the decision to crowdfund its product on Kickstarter. The campaign was a record-shattering success, and raised a record $2.2 million from more than 2,000 backers. The eVscope is now also the biggest technology crowdfunded project in France and one of the biggest in Europe. A success that still is growing: “after multiple requests from people late to this campaign, we recently decided to reopen a new crowdfunding campaign” explained Laurent Marfisi, CEO of Unistellar.

Thanks to the support of Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Unistellar will attend Viva Technologies 2018. Come and meet us at booth J05-028. We’re looking forward to talking to you about our unique enhanced-vision technology and how it creates a whole new kind of popular astronomy.

About Unistellar

Created in 2015, Unistellar is a French start-up developing the eVscope, a revolutionary digital telescope 100 times more powerful than conventional telescopes. Compact and user-friendly, the eVscope makes it possible to observe deep sky objects from everywhere and to participate into scientific observation campaigns, in partnership with the SETI Institute.

The eVscope received a CES Innovation Award in 2018, in the Tech for a Better World category. In November 2017, it raised 2.2M USD through a Kickstarter campaign, making it one of the biggest technology crowdfunded projects in Europe.


Research Thrust: 


Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen report that the dust trail of 700-year comet Borisov, who just passed perihelion in 2014, will be in the Earth's path on 2017 July 29 at 00:22 UT. Earth will pass only 0.0006 AU inside the comet's orbit at a time when the comet has just passed perihelion, both favorable circumstances for detecting meteors. Observers in South Africa will have a chance to see a glimpse of this new 1-2 hour duration meteor shower.

Observations of Ceres indicate that asteroids might be camouflaged

MOUNTAIN VIEW – The appearance of small bodies in the outer solar system could be deceiving. Asteroids and dwarf planets may be camouflaged with an outer layer of material that actually comes from somewhere else.

Using data primarily gathered by SOFIA, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a team of astronomers has detected the presence of substantial amounts of material on the surface of Ceres that appears to be fragments of other asteroids. This is contrary to the currently accepted surface composition classification of Ceres, suggesting that the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is cloaked by material that has partially disguised its real makeup.

“We find that the outer few microns of the surface is partially coated with dry particles,” says Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute. “But they don’t come from Ceres itself. They’re debris from asteroid impacts that probably occurred tens of millions of years ago.”

Ceres is considered to be both an asteroid and a dwarf planet, the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system. Astronomers have classified Ceres, as well as 75 percent of all asteroids, as belonging to composition class “C” based on their similar colors. But the mid-infrared spectra from SOFIA show that Ceres differs substantially from C-type asteroids in nearby orbits, challenging the conventional understanding of the relationship between Ceres and smaller asteroids.

“By analyzing the spectral properties of Ceres we have detected a layer of fine particles of a dry silicate called pyroxene. Models of Ceres based on data collected by NASA’s Dawn as well as ground-based telescopes indicated substantial amounts of water-bearing minerals such as clays and carbonates,” explains Pierre Vernazza, research scientist in the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille. “Only the mid-infrared observations made using SOFIA were able to show that both types of material are present on the surface of Ceres.”

Ceres' surface is contaminated by a significant amount of dry material while its the area below the crust contains essentially water-bearing materials. The mid-infrared observations revealed the presence of dry pyroxene on the surface probably coming from interplanetary dust particles.  The  Internal structure of the Dwarf Planet Ceres was derived from the NASA Dawn spacecraft data.  Click for larger

To identify where the pyroxene on the surface of Ceres came from, Vernazza and his collaborators, including researchers from the SETI Institute and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, turned to interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) that are commonly seen as meteors when they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. The research team had previously shown that IDPs blasted into space by asteroid collisions are an important source of material accumulated on the surfaces of other asteroids. The implication is that a coating of IDPs has caused Ceres to mimic the coloration of some of its dry and rocky neighbors.

Ceres and asteroids are not the only instance in which material transported from elsewhere has affected the surfaces of solar system bodies. Dramatic examples include the red material seen by New Horizons on Pluto’s moon Charon and Saturn’s two-faced moon Iapetus. Planetary scientists also hypothesize that material from comets and asteroids provided a final veneer to the then-forming Earth – a coating that included substantial amounts of water plus the organic substances of the biosphere.

This study resolves a long standing question about whether surface material accurately reflects the intrinsic composition of an asteroid. These results show that by extending observations to the mid-infrared, one can better identify the composition of an asteroid. According to Vernazza, “the detection of some ammoniated clays mixed with the watery clays on Ceres raises the possibility that the dwarf planet might have formed in the outer reaches of the solar system and somehow migrated to its current location.”

“SOFIA, is the only observatory, currently operating or planned, that can make such observations, essential to understanding the true nature of these objects” says Marchis. “The bottom line is that seeing is not believing when it comes to asteroids. We shouldn’t judge these objects by their covers, as it were.”

For More Information about SOFIA:

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NASA Kepler Visionary Honored By American Association for the Advancement of Science

William J. Borucki, principal investigator for NASA's Kepler mission at the agency's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, has been named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Borucki is recognized for distinguished contributions to the field of astrophysics, with his leadership of the Kepler Mission leading to the discovery of thousands of exoplanets.

"This is a worthy acknowledgment of Bill Borucki's vision and the commitment of the Kepler mission team," said Michael Bicay, director for science at Ames. “Kepler has re-written the narrative in contemporary astronomy by proving what scientists long suspected—that planets are common in our Milky Way galaxy. This essential leap in knowledge allows us to take the next important steps in ascertaining whether life could exist elsewhere."

Click to see large imageKepler is the first NASA mission to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone--the region in a planetary system where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. To date, Kepler has identified more than 5,100 planet candidates, of which more than 2,500 have been verified as bona fide planets confirming that planets are everywhere.

Beginning in 1992, with the first proposal for the Kepler mission to NASA Headquarters, Borucki led a determined team through a decade of tackling questions about technology that had not been flown in space yet. With the final concerns addressed, the mission once deemed impossible was approved for flight in 2000. 

"I am truly honored to be named a fellow by an organization that has a proud history of promoting advances in the sciences," said Borucki. 

Borucki will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin at a ceremony Feb. 18, 2017 at the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachussetts.

Previous honors Borucki has received include the 2016 Franklin Institute Bower Award and Prize; the 2015 Shaw Prize; the 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals presented by United States President Obama; and the 2013 Henry Draper Medal.

Borucki earned a Master of Science degree in physics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1962 and joined Ames as a space scientist that same year. The results of Borucki's early work developing spectroscopic instrumentation to determine the plasma properties of hypervelocity shock waves was used in the design of the heat shields for the Apollo mission. In July 2015, Borucki retired from NASA after 52 years of service at the agency. 

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:

For more information on the AAAS Fellows program, visit:


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