Planet Hunter ESPRESSO Instrument Makes Its First Observations

Posted: Dec 10 2017, 7:31am CST | by , Updated: Dec 10 2017, 9:14am CST, in News | Latest Science News

Planet Hunter ESPRESSO Instrument Makes its First Observations
Credit: ESO/P. Horálek

The next generation planet hunter has achieved first light on ESO's Very Large Telescope in northern Chile

European Space Agency’ ESPRESSO has taken its first peek into skies earlier this week. The high resolution spectrograph is installed on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and is designed to search for transiting exoplanets.

Exoplanets and their host stars are bound together by gravity. When exoplanets pass in front of their parent star, they create fluctuations in star's light that can be detected by sensitive instruments. With improved spectral resolution and a wider wavelength range, ESPRESSO can detect minuscule changes in the light of their host stars and is expected to take the hunt for alien planets to the next level.

ESPRESSO or The Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations has achieved first light on ESO's Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in northern Chile.

"Bringing ESPRESSO this far has been a great accomplishment, with contributions from an international consortium as well as many different groups within ESO: engineers, astronomers and administration. They had to not just install the spectrograph itself, but also the very complex optics that bring the light together from the four VLT Unit Telescopes." Instrument scientist Gaspare Lo Curto (ESO) said in a statement.

ESPRESSO is the successor to HARPS, which is one of most productive and precise planet hunters right now. It has discovered a vast majority of exoplanets. However, ESPRESSO is a new, extremely stable and accurate spectrograph that can make very high precision radial velocity measurements of solar-type stars and can lead to more discoveries. For comparison, HARPS can attain a precision of around one meter per second in velocity measurements, whereas ESPRESSO aims to achieve a precision of just a few centimeters per second.

“The success is the result of the work of many people over 10 years,’ said lead scientist for ESPRESSO, Francesco Pepe from the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

“ESPRESSO isn't just the evolution of previous instruments like HARPS, but it will be transformational, with its high resolution and higher precision. And unlike earlier instruments it can exploit the VLT’s full collecting power – it can be used with all four of the VLT Unit Telescopes at the same time to simulate a 16-meter telescope.”

He added. “ESPRESSO will be unsurpassed for at least a decade – now I am just impatient to find our first rocky planet.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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