Automated Planet Finder Telescope Starts The Hunt

The Automated Planet Finder, a 2.4 meter automated telescope with a high-resolution spectrograph, has started its hunt for habitable planets of other suns.

(The Automated Planet Finder Telescope)

The spectrograph was designed by UCO's Steve Vogt and built at UCO's Technical Facilities. Named for Gloria and Kenneth Levy , who supported its construction with a generous donation, the spectrograph uses a large camera to bring the light to focus on a CCD. The spectrograph then analyzes and records the spectrum of this light...

The sensitive Levy spectrograph is optimized for speed and radial velocity precision. It will detect velocity changes in each star's movement down to 1 meter per second, equivalent to human walking speed. This change in a star's velocity could indicate that planets are pulling on the star with their gravitational forces. Since the spectrograph detects the smallest possible velocity changes, planets of lowest possible mass can be detected. This enables astronomers to find small rocky earthlike planets. Spectrographic data will be fed into an extrasolar planet data pipeline, which astronomers will then analyze to discover new planets.

The Automated Planet Finder telescope and spectrograph are being partially funded by a combination of grants from the U.S. Naval Observatory and NASA. The APF has already helped identify two new planetary systems (HD 141399 and GJ 687).

Golden Age science fiction master Edmond Hamilton described the idea of an automated habitable planet-finding telescope with pretty much the same configuration in his amazing 1936 short story Cosmic Quest:

I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.

These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected. With super-telescopic eyes each one scanned a part of the star field before them. And each mechanical eye, when it found planetary systems in its field, automatically shifted upon them a higher powered telespectroscope which recorded on permanent film the size, mean temperature and atmospheric conditions of these worlds.
(Read more about Hamilton's search for habitable planets)

(The telespectroscope recorded the conditions of these other worlds)

Read more about the Automated Planet Finder Telescope; to support this work, visit Supporting the Planet Search.

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