Astronomers from UCI, other institutions use new technique to find extrasolar planets

Thursday, February 21, 2019
Irvine, Calif., Feb. 20, 2019 – Astronomers from institutions including the University of California, Irvine have begun routine science operations with the Habitable Planet Finder, a new high-precision spectrograph to help detect worlds outside our solar system.
The team demonstrated the effectiveness of the HPF through confirmation and observations of a recently discovered super-Earth orbiting Barnard’s star – one of our sun’s closest neighbors – during the commissioning of the new detector. Its findings are detailed in a study published today in Optica.
Coupled to the 10-meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in Texas, the HPF operates in near-infrared wavelengths, making it a powerful tool for astronomers looking for rocky planets orbiting M-dwarfs, relatively cool, small and dim stars that are highly abundant in the Milky Way.
“About 70 percent of the stars in our galaxy are M-dwarfs like Barnard’s star, but the near-infrared light they emit has made it difficult for astronomers to see their planets with ordinary optical telescopes,” said Paul Robertson, UCI assistant professor of physics & astronomy, who began working on this approach to exoplanet hunting as a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. “With the HPF, it’s now open season for exoplanet hunting on a greatly expanded selection of stellar targets.”
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