New device to help confirm Kepler’s planetary candidates

February 15th, 2011 - 2:11 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 15 (ANI): The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is part of an international collaboration building a new instrument called HARPS-North, which will complement Kepler by helping to confirm and characterize Kepler’s planetary candidates.

HARPS stands for High-Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher and is designed to detect the tiny radial-velocity signal induced by planets as small as Earth.

“The Kepler mission gives us the size of a planet, based on the amountof light it blocks when it passes in front of its star. Now we need tomeasure planetary masses, so that we can calculate the densities. Thatwill allow us to distinguish rocky planets and water worlds from onesdominated by atmospheres of hydrogen and helium,” explainedSmithsonian astronomer David Latham.

HARPS-N will be installed on the 3.6-meter Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) in the Canary Islands. From this location, it will be able to study the same region of the sky viewed by the Kepler spacecraft, within the northernconstellations of Cygnus and Lyra.

“We have set up an enthusiastic collaboration among variousinstitutions to build a northern copy of HARPS. We all expect HARPS-Nto be as successful as its southern ‘brother,’” said HARPS-N principalinvestigator Francesco Pepe of the Astronomical Observatory of Geneva.

“HARPS-N will pursue the most interesting targets found by Kepler, ata level that no one else in the world can do,” said Dimitar Sasselov,Director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative.

“HARPS-N will partner with Kepler to characterize worlds enough like Earth that they might be able to support life as we know it.” (ANI)

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