iLocater achieves first light, giving scientists clearer picture of nearby planets

phys.org | 11/14/2014 | Staff
melanie7 (Posted by) Level 3
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Scientists are one step closer to discovering life on other planets.

A team of engineers and astrophysicists has installed the front-end module of a new instrument named iLocater at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in the Pinaleño Mountains of southeast Arizona. When fully completed, the instrument will be a first-of-its-kind high-resolution spectrometer capable of detecting Earth-like planets within habitable zones of nearby stars.

Light - Beam - Starlight - Telescope - Optics

After successfully achieving "first light," capturing a beam of starlight filtered through the telescope's adaptive optics system, the team discovered what was thought to be a singular star was actually a previously unidentified binary star system.

"Our instrument is special in that we're the only people in the world that can take spectra of multiple closely spaced stars at the same time and search for orbiting planets around each," said Justin Crepp, associate professor of physics in the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Engineering and Design Core Facility. "That's our ultimate goal, and that's where we can really shine."

Mechanism - Telescope - Crepp - Super - Complex

"You never know what's going to happen when you turn on every mechanism in a telescope," said Crepp. "It's this super complex system. The starlight aligned with our system on the first try. The adaptive optics system turns on and—'oh, that's binary.' It was years of work, and everyone was excited and then we find this. Nobody knew it was a binary system."

Designed by a team led by Crepp and Jonathan Crass, a research assistant professor at Notre Dame, iLocater is the world's first diffraction-limited Doppler radial velocity instrument. It was selected for construction in 2014 by a Large Binocular Telescope committee among various hardware concepts considered the "next generation" of instruments. The system was assembled and tested at...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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