Innovative new instrument to seek habitable worlds | 7/15/2018 | Paul Scott Anderson
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A test observation by IRD of red dwarf GJ 436. Comparing the star’s spectrum (broken line) to the laser frequency comb (dots) allows researchers to calculate the motion of the star. Image via NINS Astrobiology Center.

As more and more exoplanets are discovered, the technology used to help find them keeps advancing as well. This is especially true when it comes to smaller – and potentially habitable – planets, like Earth. The National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) Astrobiology Center in Japan announced one such new innovation on July 2, 2018. A new instrument, called the InfraRed Doppler (IRD) has been installed on the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii. With it, astronomers will be able to search for potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarf stars, the most common kind of star in our galaxy.

IRD - Light - Stars - IR - Light

IRD will observe the infrared light coming from these stars (which emit more IR than visible light); when that is combined with the huge light-gathering power of the telescope itself, astronomers hope to find hundreds more planets orbiting red dwarf stars. It is generally easier to detect planets orbiting red dwarfs since those stars are smaller and fainter than ones like the sun. There are also many red dwarfs in the sun’s neighborhood that can be studied.

Artist’s conception of an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. Red dwarfs are the most common star in our galaxy, and many exoplanets have already been discovered orbiting them. Image via NASA/ESA/G. Bacon.

IRD - Researchers - NINS - Astrobiology - Center

IRD was created by researchers from NINS Astrobiology Center, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, University of Tokyo, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and Tokyo Institute of Technology. IRD already completed test observations earlier this year and will be available to astronomers world-wide in August 2018.

Other technology, called a laser frequency comb, provides a standard ruler for measuring the line-of-sight movement...
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