NASA | JPL-Caltech | NESSI | 2020 Jan 23
The infrared instrument at Palomar Observatory's Hale Telescope holds the promise of deepening our understanding of planets beyond our Sun.
The darkness surrounding the Hale Telescope breaks with a sliver of blue sky as the dome begins to open, screeching with metallic, sci-fi-like sounds atop San Diego County's Palomar Mountain. The historic observatory smells of the oil pumped in to support the bearings that make this giant telescope float ever so slightly as it moves to track the stars.
Since February 2018, scientists have been testing an instrument at the Hale Telescope called the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, or NESSI. A collaboration between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, NESSI was built to examine the atmospheres of planets that orbit stars beyond our Sun, or exoplanets, providing new insights into what these worlds are like.
So far, NESSI has checked out two "hot Jupiters," massive gas giants orbiting close to their stars and too scorching to sustain life. One, called HD 189773b, has such extreme temperatures and winds that it may rain glass sideways there. The other, WASP-33b, has a "sunscreen" layer of atmosphere, with molecules that absorb ultraviolet and visible light. ...