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New IR instrument searches for habitable planets

Test observation of a red dwarf. Comparing the star's spectrum (broken line) to the laser frequency frame (points) allows researchers to calculate the star's motion. Credit: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

A new tool for searching for potentially inhabited / inhabited planets has begun working on the Subaru Telescope. This instrument, IRD (InfraRed Doppler), will look for habitable planets around red dwarf stars. Astronomers hope to investigate these small but many stars will reveal a plethora of new planets.

Red dwarfs are less than the sun and emit most of their energy as infrared (IR) instead of visible light. But because they are smaller, it is easier to find planets around them. Also near the sun there are many late M-type stars (one type of red dwarf) mature for examination. The large number of candidates increases the odds of finding potentially habitable or other interesting planets.

But red dwarfs are sufficiently different from the sun so that a new instrument was needed before they could be examined for planets. Researchers at the NINS Astrobiology Center, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Tokyo University, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and Tokyo Institute of Technology created IRD to observe the IR light strongly emitted by red dwarf stars. Combined with the Subaru Telescope's great light gathering capability to capture the dim light from red dwarfs, the IRD will allow astronomers to investigate hundreds of stars looking for planets.

New technology, called laser frequency frame, provides a common ruler for measuring a sight moving of one star to a few meters per second. Watching this movement for effects caused by planets around the star reveals not only the planet's presence but also its properties, as its mass and distance from the star. By comparing this information with models, researchers can choose the most interesting planets for detailed follow-up observations.

IRD had successful test observations earlier this year and will be available to worldwide astronomical society as of August 201


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Provided by:
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

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