ESO Organization Release | 2018 Dec 05
Four telescopes devoted to the search for habitable planets around nearby ultra-cool stars get off to a successful start at ESO’s Paranal Observatory
The SPECULOOS project has made its first observations at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. SPECULOOS will focus on detecting Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby ultra-cool stars and brown dwarfs.
The SPECULOOS Southern Observatory (SSO) has been successfully installed at the Paranal Observatory and has obtained its first engineering and calibration images — a process known as first light. After finishing this commissioning phase, this new array of planet-hunting telescopes will begin scientific operations, starting in earnest in January 2019.
SSO is the core facility of a new exoplanet-hunting project called Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars (SPECULOOS) , and consists of four telescopes equipped with 1-metre primary mirrors. The telescopes — named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto after the four Galilean moons of Jupiter — will enjoy pristine observing conditions at the Paranal site, which is also home to ESO’s flagship Very Large Telescope (VLT). Paranal provides a near-perfect site for astronomy, with dark skies and a stable, arid climate.
These telescopes have a momentous task — SPECULOOS aims to search for potentially habitable Earth-sized planets surrounding ultra-cool stars or brown dwarfs, whose planetary populations are still mostly unexplored. Only a few exoplanets have been found orbiting such stars, and even fewer lie within their parent star’s habitable zone. Even though these dim stars are hard to observe, they are abundant — comprising about 15% of the stars in the nearby universe. SPECULOOS is designed to explore 1000 such stars, including the nearest, brightest, and smallest, in search of Earth-sized habitable planets. ...