Friday, January 16, 2015

UK Scientist On The Hunt For New Exoplanets and Alien Life

Leicester space scientists embark on new hunt for extraterrestrial worlds
Part of ESO's telescope array in Chile tasked with searching out new exoplanets
University of Leicester space scientists are hopening to identify new extraterrestrial worlds as part of a global project to hunt for distant planets.

Dr Mike Goad, from the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, will lead a team of four space scientists as part of the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS).

The project will use the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal Observatory, in northern Chile.
It will look for planets that pass in front of their parent stars, which produce a slight dimming of the star’s light, that can be detected by sensitive instruments.
From left to right, Andrew Grange, Dr. Mike Goad. Dr. Matt Burleigh, Alex Chaushev
The telescope array will focus on discovering Neptune-sized and smaller planets, with diameters between two and eight times that of Earth.
Dr Goad said: “NGTS achieves a level of accuracy unprecedented in all previous ground-based wide field surveys, and has the potential to discover significant numbers of Neptune sized to super-Earth sized exoplanets around stars that are sufficiently bright for the all-important follow-up studies with larger ground- and space-based facilities.”
The NGTS is a wide-field observing system made up of an array of twelve telescopes.
This new facility, built by a UK, Swiss and German consortium, was constructed in northern Chile because of the superb observing conditions and excellent support facilities at this site.
Don Pollacco, of the University of Warwick, who is working with the Leicester team, said: “We needed a site where there were many clear nights and the air was clear and dry so that we could make very accurate measurements as often as possible — Paranal was the best choice by far.”
Night time long exposure view shows the telescopes and the Milky Way
The other scientists from Leicester working on the project are Dr Matthew Burleigh, Dr Sarah Casewell, Andrew Grange and Alex Chaushev.
They will play a key role using the university’s Space Research Centre facilities to monitor the performance of each of the 12 NGTS cameras.
Dr Burleigh said: “Nasa’s orbiting Kepler mission has made some amazing discoveries, including planets similar in size to Earth.
“But these worlds mainly orbit stars that are too faint and too distant for further study.
“NGTS will discover small planets around nearby, bright stars, that are ideal for detecting and investigating the planet's atmospheres.”

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