Penn Astronomers Building Next-Gen Exoplanet Finder For NASA

Posted: Mar 30 2016, 9:42am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Penn Astronomers Building Next-Gen Exoplanet Finder for NASA
The WIYN telescope building at sunset. Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF 

A team of dedicated astronomers are busy building a brand new futuristic exoplanet finder.

An astronomer from the University of Pennsylvania is a part of a team that has been selected by NASA. The task set before the group is the construction of a $10 million, state-of-the-art finder which will locate planets outside our solar system.

The challenge is daunting yet manageable once the team of diligent workers get down to brass tacks. This group was selected as the top winner in a nation-wide competition. The instrument of research will get finished in 2019, that is three years from now.

It will be a result of the partnership between NASA and the National Science Foundation. The main objective before the group is the building of a complex finder that could easily detect any other planets besides our nine that are a part of the solar system.

This in turn will guide NASA on its path towards the finding of extraterrestrial life forms in outer space. The exoplanet finder will be termed NEID. It will be installed on top of the WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory which is situated in Arizona.

NEID itself is a term that means “to imagine or find out”. It comes from the lingo of the Native American Indians on whose land the observatory is situated. It is also the shortened form of “NN-Explore Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy”.

NEID will pinpoint planets through the stars they affect via their gravitational force. This is called the wobble effect. When a planet revolves around a star, the star imperceptibly changes its movement.

This is what the makers of NEID have in mind. In order to find a planet resembling our earth out there, we need a great deal of precision and accuracy.

The gadget is basically a huge spectrograph. It observes light and breaks it down into its various components. The chemical elements in the photosphere will be analyzed via this instrument.

The job is an extremely delicate and fine one and will require the utmost care and precision to accomplish. A high quality digital camera will be a part and parcel of the instrument.

Several institutes from around the world will be making their contributions towards the design and manufacture of NEID. It is a challenge yet not impossible.

As for the team, which is directly working on the special project, its members consider it a privilege to be a part of something which will make history.

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