New Subaru instrument will make hunt for extra-solar planets easier

December 28th, 2007 - 12:05 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 28 (ANI): The Subaru Telescope Facility, located on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, has inaugurated a new instrument, which would block out the harsh direct light from a star, so that nearby faint objects such as extra-solar planetary systems can be viewed.

Called the HiCIAO (High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Adaptive Optics) camera, this instrument is designed as a technologically adaptable system that will replace the infrared CIAO (Coronagraphic Imager with Adaptive Optics) unit that has been in operation since April 2000.

The HiCIAO system, initiated in 2004, was developed by a team of scientists and engineers from the Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and the University of Hawaiis Institute for Astronomy.

The new system benefits from a contrast improvement of 10 to 100 times better than before, allowing astronomers glimpses into regions never explored.

The unique instrument was primarily designed for the direct detection of extrasolar planets and disks, said Dr. Ryuji Suzuki, a Subaru astronomer leading the HiCIAO project.

The systems innovative design allows for high contrast coronagraphic techniques in three observing modes: direct imaging, polarization differential imaging, and spectral differential imaging.

HiCIAO directly detects and characterizes young extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs, sub-stellar objects that occupy the mass range between that of large gas giant planets (e.g. Jupiter) and the lowest mass stars.

A further advantage of the instrument is that it will be used in concert with an adaptive optics (AO) system that was recently significantly upgraded, which, in turn, increased the clarity of Subarus vision by a factor of ten, opening up more of the night sky to observing.

The new AO system also uses 188 actuators behind a deformable mirror to remove the atmospheric distortion from its view, allowing Subaru Telescope to observe close to its theoretical performance limits.

With the aid of the laser guide star AO system, HiCIAO can also target dim objects including young stars, protostars, and star forming regions. HiCIAO is also extremely useful detecting faint dust disks around nearby stars studying small-scale and inner disk structures and dust grain properties, leading to a clearer understanding of extra-solar planetary systems and their evolutionary processes.

Although we already know more than 250 extrasolar planets, they have all proven their existence by indirect evidences like the Doppler or transit method, said Dr Suzuki. Because the direct imaging of an extrasolar planet has never been done, if it happens, that will be exciting, he added. (ANI)

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