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ESPRESSO gives Planet Hunting a shake

A powerful new planet hunter has begun searching for skies in search of potentially habitable rocky worlds.

The ESPRESSO instrument, which is installed in the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory in northern Chile, made its first observations month, project team members announced today (December 6).

ESPRESSO is designed to find alien planets through the "radial velocity" method, that is, detecting small oscillations in the motion of a star caused by the gravitational pull of the planets orbit. The instrument is the next-generation version of the prolific HARPS spectrograph, which has discovered more than 100 exoplanets to date. [7 Ways to Discover Alien Planets]

Only the famous NASA Kepler space telescope, which looks for the tiny drops of brightness caused when planets cross the face of its star, has found more extraterrestrial worlds than HARPS. (The gap between the two is quite large, however: Kepler's recount currently stands at 2,515 planets in his two missions, along with 2,500 or more additional "candidates" waiting for confirmation by follow-up studies or observations.)

"ESPRESSO isn" It is not only the evolution of our previous instruments like HARPS, but it will be transformational, with its higher resolution and greater precision, "the project's lead scientist, Francesco Pepe, of the University of Geneva, said in a statement. in Switzerland.

How accurate will ESPRESSO really be (whose name is short for Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations)? Project team members point to a speed measurement accuracy of only a few centimeters (1 inch or less) per second, compared to the HARPS capacity of 1 meter (3.3 feet) per second, ESPRESSO should be able to detect some of the planet s smallest ever found, said representatives of ESO.

Part of the improvement is due to technological advances, and part is due to the placement of ESPRESSO in a much larger telescope, team members said.

Image showing the room where the beams of light from the four "unit telescopes" of the Very Large Telescope come together and are inserted into fibers, which in turn send the light to the ESPRESSO spectrograph in another room. One of the points where light enters the room appears on the back of this image. Credit: P. Horálek / ESO

HARPS sits in a range of 11.8 feet (3.6 m) at ESO's La Silla Observatory, which is also located in Chile. The VLT consists of four "unit telescopes" of 26.9 feet in width (8.2 m) and ESPRESSO will be linked to all of them, achieving the equivalent of light collection of a single range of 52.5 feet in width (16 m), THAT representatives said.

"This success is the result of the work of many people for 10 years," said Pepe. "ESPRESSO will be unsurpassed for at least a decade, now I am eager to find our first rocky planet!"


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