Whipple was a proposed space observatory in the NASA Discovery Program. The observatory would try to search for objects in the Kuiper belt and the theorized Oort cloud by conducting blind occultation observations. Although the Oort cloud was hypothized in the 1950s, it has not yet been directly observed. The mission would attempt to detect Oort cloud objects by scanning for brief moments where the objects would block the light of background stars.
In 2011, six finalists were selected for the 2016 Discovery Program, and Whipple was not among them, but it was awarded funding to continue its technological development efforts.
Whipple would orbit in a halo orbit around the Earth–Sun L2 and have a photometer that would try to detect Oort cloud and Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) by recording their transits of distant stars. It would be designed to detect objects out to 10000 AU. Some of the mission goals included directly detecting the Oort cloud for the first time and determining the outer limit of the Kuiper belt. Whipple would be designed to detect objects as small as a kilometer (half a mile) across at a distance of 3,200 billion kilometers; 22,000 astronomical units (2×1012 mi). Its telescope would need a relatively wide field of view and fast recording cadence to capture transits that may last only seconds.
In 2011, Whipple was one of three proposals to win a technology development award in a Discovery Program selection. The design proposed was a catadioptric Cassegrain telescope with a 77-centimeter aperture (30.3 inches). It would have a wide field of view with a fast read-out CMOS detector to achieve the desired time and photometric sensitivity.
The smallest KBO yet detected was discovered in 2009 by poring over data from the Hubble Space Telescope's fine guidance sensors. Astronomers detected a transit of an object against a distant star, which, based on the duration and amount of dimming, was calculated to be a KBO about 1,000 meters (3,200 ft) in diameter. It has been suggested that the Kepler observatory may be able to detect objects in the Oort cloud by their occultation of background stars.
- Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory
- List of proposed space observatories
- List of Solar System objects most distant from the Sun in 2015
- List of space observatories
- Near-Earth Object Camera, a proposed space telescope
- New Horizons, Pluto and KBO flyby probe
- Whipple shield, a type of spacecraft shielding
- Alcock, Charles; Brown, Michael; Tom, Gauron; Cate, Heneghan. "The Whipple Mission Exploring the Oort cloud and the Kuiper Belt" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on Nov 17, 2015.
- Alcock, C.; Brown, M. E.; Gauron, T.; Heneghan, C.; Holman, M. J.; Kenter, A.; Kraft, R.; Lee, R.; Livingston, J. (2014-12-01). "The Whipple Mission: Exploring the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. 51: P51D–3977. Bibcode:2014AGUFM.P51D3977A.
- "NASA Selects 3 Finalists for 2016 Discovery Mission". SpaceNews.com. 6 May 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
- "NASA Selects 'Whipple' Mission for Technology Development". www.space-travel.com. May 10, 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
- A Fast, Wide Field of View, Catadioptric Telescope for Whipple
- Group, CfA Web Services. "High Energy Astrophysics". whipple.cfa.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2018-01-27.
- Alcock, Charles. "Whipple: Exploring the Solar System beyond Neptune Using a Survey for Occultations of Bright Stars". Solar System Exploration: NASA Science. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
- "HubbleSite: News - Hubble Finds Smallest Kuiper Belt Object Ever Seen". hubblesite.org. Retrieved 2018-01-27.
- Ofek, Eran O; Nakar, Ehud (2010). "Detectability of Oort Cloud Objects Using Kepler". The Astrophysical Journal. 711 (1): L7. arXiv:0912.0948. Bibcode:2010ApJ...711L...7O. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/711/1/L7.