Home > Science/Astronomy > New Instrument Sifts Through Starlight to Reveal New Worlds

New Instrument Sifts Through Starlight to Reveal New Worlds

ScienceDaily (July 5, 2012) — An advanced telescope imaging system that started taking data last month is the first of its kind capable of spotting planets orbiting suns outside of our solar system. The collaborative set of high-tech instrumentation and software, called Project 1640, is now operating on the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California after more than six years of development by researchers and engineers at the American Museum of Natural History, the California Institute of Technology, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Two images of HD 157728, a nearby star 1.5 times larger than the Sun. The star is centered in both images, and its light has been mostly removed by the adaptive optics system and coronagraph. The remaining starlight leaves a speckled background against which fainter objects cannot be seen. On the left, the image was made without the ultra-precise starlight control that Project 1640 is capable of. On the right, the wavefront sensor was active, and a darker square hole formed in the residual starlight, allowing objects up to 10 million times fainter than the star to be seen. Images were taken on June 14, 2012 with Project 1640 on the Palomar Observatory’s 200-inch 

The project’s first images demonstrating a new technique that creates extremely precise “dark holes” around stars of interest were presented July 5 at the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation meeting in Amsterdam by Ben R. Oppenheimer, a curator in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics and principal investigator for Project 1640.

Although hundreds of planets are known from indirect detection methods to orbit other stars, it’s extremely difficult to see them directly in an image. This is largely because the light that stars emit is tens of millions to billions of times brighter than the light given off by planets.

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120705161252.htm

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