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EXO WORLDS
Scientists unveil latest exoplanet-hunter CHARIS
by Brooks Hays
Princeton, N.J. (UPI) Nov 10, 2016


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The Subaru Telescope's latest instrument addition, CHARIS, is functioning properly according to new tests.

In a new study, scientists detailed a successful first test of the instrument and described its ability to seek out and identify exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.

Currently, planet-hunting telescopes and their instruments look for exoplanets by identifying dimming patterns caused when a planet momentarily blocks out a portion of its host star's light. The technique is effective for finding exoplanets but fails to tell astronomers much about the planets it identifies.

CHARIS uses a different approach. It works by identifying light reflected by an exoplanet and separating it from light directly emitted by the planet's star.

"With CHARIS spectra we can now do a lot more than simply detect planets: we can measure their temperatures and atmosphere compositions," Olivier Guyon, head of Subaru's adaptive optics program and faculty member at the University of Arizona, said in a news release.

Initial tests suggest the instrument is operating as it should.

"We couldn't have been more pleased by the results," added N. Jeremy Kasdin, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University. "CHARIS exceeded all of our expectations. I can't praise our team enough for their extremely hard work and dedication that made CHARIS a success. It is on track to be available for science observations starting in February 2017."

Though CHARIS features a narrow field of vision, able to analyze only a small portion of the sky at a time, it can image a wide spectrum of wavelengths, allowing it to field a variety of useful observations that could help scientists study a planet's mass, temperature, age, weather patterns and more.

"There is a lot of excitement," said Tyler Groff, a Princeton researcher who lead the effort to design and build the new instrument. "CHARIS is going to open for science in February to everyone."


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