Double vision: New instrument casts its eyes to the sky

December 7, 2010 By Whitney Clavin
The Large Binocular Telescope at Mt. Graham, Arizona. Image credit: Large Binocular Telescope Observatory

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer has taken its first images of the star Beta Peg in the constellation Pictor -- an encouraging start for an instrument designed to probe the cosmic neighborhoods where Earth-like planets could exist.

Eight years in development, the NASA-funded instrument combines beams of light from twin 8.4-meter (28-foot) mirrors mounted atop the Large Binocular on Mount Graham, Ariz. "By combining the light of the telescopes, we're able to realize its full potential," said Project Manager Tom McMahon of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "Together, the two mirrors form the largest single-mount telescope in the world."

"The quality of the first-light images is wonderful," said the principal investigator for the project, Phil Hinz of the University of Arizona. "The telescope was stable and the instrument was working properly."

With this high-resolution imaging capability, astronomers hope to probe nearby solar systems -- specifically, the areas in these systems where Earth-like with could exist. Though the Large Binocular Telescope won't be able to detect Earth-size planets, it will be able to see dust disks that are indicative of , in addition to detecting large, Jupiter-size planets farther out from the star. These findings will help future, space-based exoplanet missions know where to search for Earth-like planets in our own galactic neighborhood.

With its ability to probe this "" of other solar systems, the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer will also complement the capabilities of other NASA missions -- the Keck Interferometer, which can find dust very close to stars; and the , which is adept at observing planet-forming dust that is much more distant.

"This instrument will help complete our picture of what planetary systems look like and be a pathfinder for finding Earth-like planets that are close by," Hinz said.

With a major upgrade of the Large Binocular Telescope's adaptive optics system scheduled for next year, the interferometer will undergo testing and commissioning for the majority of 2011, and during that time, scientific observations will begin.

"This is the highest-resolution instrument of its kind in the world," McMahon said. "We won't just be able to image exoplanets, but extragalactic objects, nebulae and galaxies. It's taken time to make sure it works as envisioned, but now it's time to do science."

Explore further: Planets Living on the Edge

Related Stories

Planets Living on the Edge

December 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Some stars have it tough when it comes to raising planets. A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows one unlucky lot of stars, born into a dangerous neighborhood. The stars themselves are safe, ...

Unsettled Youth: Spitzer Observes a Chaotic Planetary System

November 4, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Before our planets found their way to the stable orbits they circle in today, they wiggled and jostled about like unsettled children. Now, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found a young star with evidence ...

Keck Telescopes Take Deeper Look at Planetary Nurseries

December 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers using the W. M. Keck Observatory have peered far into a young planetary system, giving an unprecedented view of dust and gas that might eventually form planets similar to Jupiter, Venus, or even ...

Earth's dust tail points to alien planets

November 15, 2010

Did you know that the Earth has a dust tail? The Spitzer Space Telescope sailed right through it a few months ago, giving researchers a clear idea of what it looks like. That could be a big help to planet hunters trying to ...

Recommended for you

Hubble image: Stormy seas in Sagittarius

July 30, 2015

Some of the most breathtaking views in the Universe are created by nebulae - hot, glowing clouds of gas. This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the centre of the Lagoon Nebula, an object with a deceptively tranquil ...

New Horizons data hint at underground ocean

July 30, 2015

Pluto wears its heart on its sleeve, and that has scientists gleaning intriguing new facts about its geology and climate. Recent data from NASA's New Horizons probe—which passed within 7,800 miles of the surface on July ...

Unusual red arcs spotted on icy Saturn moon Tethys

July 30, 2015

Like graffiti sprayed by an unknown artist, unexplained arc-shaped, reddish streaks are visible on the surface of Saturn's icy moon Tethys in new, enhanced-color images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Raveon
not rated yet Dec 08, 2010
Nice. Wonder why they put them so close together.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.