NSF OIR Lab: NEID Exoplanet Instrument Sees First Light

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NSF OIR Lab: NEID Exoplanet Instrument Sees First Light

Post by bystander » Fri Jan 10, 2020 6:34 pm

NEID Exoplanet Instrument Sees First Light
National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory | 2020 Jan 08
First light spectrum of 51 Pegasi as captured by NEID on the WIYN telescope with blowup of a small section of the spectrum. The right panel shows the light from the star, highly dispersed by NEID, from short wavelengths (bluer colors) to long wavelengths (redder colors). The colors shown, which approximate the true color of the starlight at each part of image, are included for illustrative purposes only. The region in the small white box in the right panel, when expanded (left panel), shows the spectrum of the star (longer dashed lines) and the light from the wavelength calibration source (dots). Deficits of light (dark interruptions) in the stellar spectrum, are due to stellar absorption lines — “fingerprints” of the elements that are present in the atmosphere of the star. By measuring the subtle motion of these features, to bluer or redder wavelengths, astronomers can detect the “wobble” of the star produced in response to its orbiting planet. Credit: Guðmundur Kári Stefánsson/Princeton/Penn State/NSF OIR Lab/KPNO/AURA

The new NEID instrument, now installed at the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Southern Arizona, USA, has made its first observations. The NSF-NASA funded instrument is designed to measure the motion of nearby stars with extreme precision — roughly three times better than the previous generation of state-of-the-art instruments — allowing us to detect, determine the mass of, and characterize exoplanets as small as Earth.

Perched atop Tohono O’odham Nation land in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert, exoplanet-hunting spectrograph NEID is now on the road to discovering Earth-mass exoplanets. The new instrument, an extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer, is collecting starlight on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), a program of the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NSF’s OIR Lab). ...

NEID detects exoplanets by measuring the subtle effect these planets have on their parent stars. Planets tug gravitationally on the star they orbit, producing a small “wobble” — a periodic shift in the velocity of the star. This happens in our own Solar System — Jupiter causes the Sun to move at roughly 47 km/hour (about 29 miles per hour: faster than record-breaking sprinter Usain Bolt!), whereas the Earth causes a sedate movement with a speed of only 0.3 km/hour (about 0.2 miles per hour). The size of the wobble is proportional to an orbiting planet’s mass, meaning NEID measurements can be used to determine the masses of exoplanets. Current instruments can measure speeds as low as 3.5 km/hour (just over 2 miles per hour: a slow walking pace), but NEID was built to detect even lower speeds — potentially uncovering Earth-mass exoplanets. ...
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