Spectral data of the "first light" of the ESPRESSO instrument in the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. The light of a star has dispersed in its component colors. This view has been colored to indicate how the wavelengths change in the image, but these are not exactly the colors that would be seen visually.
Credit: Team ESO / ESPRESSO
A new and powerful planetary hunter has begun to search the skies for 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 last month, the team members of the project announced today (December 6).
ESPRESSO is designed to find alien planets through the "radial velocity" method, that is, by detecting small wobbles in the movement of a star caused by the gravitational pull of the orbiting planets. 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 NASA's famous 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 count currently stands at 2,515 planets in his two missions, along with 2,500 or more additional "candidates" awaiting confirmation by follow-up studies or observations.)
"ESPRESSO isn" It's not just the evolution of our previous instruments like HARPS, but it will be transformational, with its higher resolution and greater precision, "project 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 HARPS '1 meter (3.3 feet) per second capacity, therefore, ESPRESSO should be able to detect some of the smallest planets ever found, said representatives of ESO.
Part of the improvement is due to technological advances and part of ESPRESSO's placement in a much larger telescope, team members said.
HARPS sits on an 11.8-foot (3.6 m) telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory, which is also in Chile. The VLT consists of four "unit telescopes" of 26.9 feet wide (8.2 m) and ESPRESSO will be linked with 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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