The French-Led ExTrA Project to Hunt for New Exoplanets
A new exoplanet-hunter takes the form of three new telescopes at the La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. Known as the French-led ExTrA (Exoplanets in Transits and their Atmospheres) project these telescopes will give scientists a new tool to search for light signals from far off worlds.
This project could help us find life on other planets, which would be an exciting find for Asgardia, the first ever space nation that is open to everyone.
By using these tools scientists can look for moments when the light coming off small “red dwarf” stars is subtly dimmed as a result of planets passing in front of them (as seen from Earth), as reported in a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which manages the La Silla Observatory.
Red-dwarf stars are prime candidates for study, according to an ESO statement, since they are thought to host many Earth-size planets. For example, the sun’s closest neighbour, Proxima Centauri, is an M dwarf that has been discovered to have an orbiting Earth-size world.
Each telescope measures 0.6-meter (1.97 feet), and they can observe changes in a star’s brightness in many different wavelengths of light, as a way to catch the dimming of the star that could be caused by a planet passing in front of the star. This method differs slightly from existing transit methods and differential photometry techniques. By taking observations in different colours, the ground-based telescopes can correct for variations that are due to Earth’s atmosphere.
In sum, these telescopes are aiming for a level of precision that will enable scientists to see Earth-size planets, which are often very hard to detect since their relatively small in size when compared to their parent stars, as per the statement. This is important because the leaders of the ExTrA project don’t want to find exoplanets; they want to learn about exoplanet atmospheres with the telescopes, as well.
The project’s lead researcher, Xavier Bonfil, said in the ESO statement that with the next generation of telescopes, like the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, we may be able to examine the atmospheres of exoplanets found by the ExTrA project to try and evaluate the viability of these worlds to support life as we know it. Bonfil is based at the University of Grenoble in France, and the telescopes will be operated remotely from there.
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