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NASA Selects Penn State Team to Build a Planet-finding Spectrometer for WIYN

Figure 1: Very high velocity precision is needed to measure the mass of low mass planets through the subtle motion, the “wobble”, that a planet induces in its host star. The extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer (EPDS) destined for Kitt Peak will measure stellar motions with a precision of 0.1 - 0.5 m/s (or 0.2 - 1 mph), velocities comparable to the running speed of a desert tortoise or gila monster. With such high precision, the spectrometer will be able to detect and characterize Jupiter- and Neptune-sized gas giant planets as well as super-Earth and Earth-sized rocky planets.

Credit: M. Hanna & NOAO/AURA/NSF

NASA has selected a Pennsylvania State University research group led by Dr. Suvrath Mahadevan to build a new, cutting-edge instrument for the 3.5-m WIYN telescope at KPNO. By measuring the subtle back-and-forth motion of stars that is induced by their orbiting companions, the new instrument, an extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer, will detect and characterize worlds beyond our solar system.

The spectrometer, to be completed in 2019, is the centerpiece of a new partnership between NASA and NSF, the NASA-NSF Exoplanet Observational Research program (NN-EXPLORE), which aims to advance exoplanet science and support NASA space astrophysics missions through the use of the NOAO share of the WIYN telescope.

The name of the new instrument, NEID, is derived from a word meaning “to see” or “to discover/visualize” in the native language of the Tohono O’odham, on whose land KPNO is located. As an acronym, NEID is short for NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy.

NEID will have a minimum velocity precision of better than 1 mph with a goal of 0.2 mph. Lori Allen, Associate Director for KPNO, explained how NEID will meet this challenge: “The extreme precision results from numerous design factors including the extreme stability of the spectrometer environment, image stabilization at the telescope, innovative fiber optic design, as well as state-of-the-art calibration and data reduction techniques”.

When NEID is completed, astronomers worldwide will have access to this state-of-the-art instrument.

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