Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First light for SPHERE exoplanet imager

04.06.2014

Revolutionary new VLT instrument installed

SPHERE passed its acceptance tests in Europe in December 2013 and was then shipped to Paranal. The delicate reassembly was completed in May 2014 and the instrument is now mounted on VLT Unit Telescope 3. SPHERE is the latest of the second generation of instruments for the VLT (the first three were X-shooter, KMOS and MUSE).


This infrared image shows the dust ring around the nearby star HR 4796A in the southern constellation of Centaurus. It was one of the first produced by the SPHERE instrument soon after it was installed on ESO's Very Large Telescope in May 2014. It shows not only the ring itself with great clarity, but also reveals the power of SPHERE to reduce the glare from the very bright star -- the key to finding and studying exoplanets in future.

Credit: ESO/J.-L. Beuzit et al./SPHERE Consortium

SPHERE combines several advanced techniques to give the highest contrast ever reached for direct planetary imaging — far beyond what could be achieved with NACO, which took the first ever direct image of an exoplanet. To reach its impressive performance SPHERE required early development of novel technologies, in particular in the area of adaptive optics, special detectors and coronagraph components.

"SPHERE is a very complex instrument. Thanks to the hard work of the many people who were involved in its design, construction and installation it has already exceeded our expectations. Wonderful!" says Jean-Luc Beuzit, of the Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble, France and Principal Investigator of SPHERE.

SPHERE's main goal is to find and characterise giant exoplanets orbiting nearby stars by direct imaging [1]. This is an extremely challenging task as such planets are both very close to their parent stars in the sky and also very much fainter. In a normal image, even in the best conditions, the light from the star totally swamps the weak glow from the planet. The whole design of SPHERE is therefore focused on reaching the highest contrast possible in a tiny patch of sky around the dazzling star.

The first of three novel techniques exploited by SPHERE is extreme adaptive optics to correct for the effects of the Earth's atmosphere so that images are sharper and the contrast of the exoplanet increased. Secondly, a coronagraph is used to block out the light from the star and increase the contrast still further. Finally, a technique called differential imaging is applied that exploits differences between planetary and stellar light in terms of its colour or polarisation — and these subtle differences can also be exploited to reveal a currently invisible exoplanet (ann13069 , eso0503) [2].

SPHERE was designed and built by the following institutes: Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble; Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie in Heidelberg; Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille; Laboratoire d'Etudes Spatiales et d'Instrumentation en Astrophysique de l'Observatoire de Paris; Laboratoire Lagrange in Nice; ONERA; Observatoire de Genève; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics coordinated by the Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova; Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich; Astronomical Institute of the University of Amsterdam; Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA-ASTRON) and ESO.

During the first light observations several test targets were observed using the many different modes of SPHERE. These include one of the best images so far of the ring of dust around the nearby star HR 4796A. It not only shows the ring with exceptional clarity but also illustrates how well SPHERE can suppress the glare of the bright star at the centre of the picture.

Following further extensive tests and science verification observations SPHERE will be made available to the astronomical community later in 2014.

"This is just the beginning. SPHERE is a uniquely powerful tool andwill doubtless reveal many exciting surprises in the years to come," concludes Jean-Luc Beuzit.

###

Notes

[1] Most of the exoplanets currently known were discovered using indirect techniques — such as radial velocity variations of the host star, or the dip in brightness of the star caused by a transiting exoplanet. Only a few exoplanets have so far been directly imaged (eso0515 , eso0842 ).

[2] A further, but simpler trick employed by SPHERE is to take many pictures of an object, but with a significant rotation of the image in between each. Features in the pictures that rotate are artefacts of the imaging process, and features that stay in the same place are real objects in the sky.

More information

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".

Links

SPHERE science page at ESO: http://www.eso.org/sci/facilities/develop/instruments/sphere.html

SPHERE information at Observatoire des Sciences de l'Univers de Grenoble: http://sphere.osug.fr/?lang=en

Photos of the VLT: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/paranal/

Contacts

Jean-Luc Beuzit
Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble
Grenoble, France
Tel: +33 4 76 63 55 20
Cell: +33 6 87 39 62 85
Email: Jean-Luc.Beuzit@obs.ujf-grenoble.fr

Markus Feldt
Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie
Heidelberg, Germany
Tel: +49 6221 528 262
Email: mfeldt@mpia.de

Markus Kasper
ESO
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6359
Email: mkasper@eso.org

Norbert Hubin
ESO
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6517
Email: nhubin@eso.org

Richard Hook
ESO education and Public Outreach Department
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: rhook@eso.org

Richard Hook | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Astronomie ESO Outreach Telescope VLT differences exoplanets optics techniques

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Optical lenses, hardly larger than a human hair
29.06.2016 | Universität Stuttgart

nachricht Clandestine black hole may represent new population
28.06.2016 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical lenses, hardly larger than a human hair

3D printing enables the smalles complex micro-objectives

3D printing revolutionized the manufacturing of complex shapes in the last few years. Using additive depositing of materials, where individual dots or lines...

Im Focus: Flexible OLED applications arrive

R2D2, a joint project to analyze and development high-TRL processes and technologies for manufacture of flexible organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been successfully completed.

In contrast to point light sources like LEDs made of inorganic semiconductor crystals, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are light-emitting surfaces. Their...

Im Focus: Unexpected flexibility found in odorant molecules

High resolution rotational spectroscopy reveals an unprecedented number of conformations of an odorant molecule – a new world record!

In a recent publication in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter...

Im Focus: 3-D printing produces cartilage from strands of bioink

Strands of cow cartilage substitute for ink in a 3D bioprinting process that may one day create cartilage patches for worn out joints, according to a team of engineers. "Our goal is to create tissue that can be used to replace large amounts of worn out tissue or design patches," said Ibrahim T. Ozbolat, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics. "Those who have osteoarthritis in their joints suffer a lot. We need a new alternative treatment for this."

Cartilage is a good tissue to target for scale-up bioprinting because it is made up of only one cell type and has no blood vessels within the tissue. It is...

Im Focus: First experimental quantum simulation of particle physics phenomena

Physicists in Innsbruck have realized the first quantum simulation of lattice gauge theories, building a bridge between high-energy theory and atomic physics. In the journal Nature, Rainer Blatt‘s and Peter Zoller’s research teams describe how they simulated the creation of elementary particle pairs out of the vacuum by using a quantum computer.

Elementary particles are the fundamental buildings blocks of matter, and their properties are described by the Standard Model of particle physics. The...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Conference ‘GEO BON’ Wants to Close Knowledge Gaps in Global Biodiversity

28.06.2016 | Event News

ERES 2016: The largest conference in the European real estate industry

09.06.2016 | Event News

Networking 4.0: International Laser Technology Congress AKL’16 Shows New Ways of Cooperations

24.05.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

The large-scale stability of chromosomes

29.06.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene Drive Technology: Where is the future?

29.06.2016 | Life Sciences

Optical lenses, hardly larger than a human hair

29.06.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>