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Telescopes from Austria power search for exoplanets

22 January 2015

Astronomers in the Chilean Atacama Desert are using 12 high tech telescopes from Austria to find planets transiting around other stars.

Austrian telescope manufacturer ASA Astrosysteme GmbH has supplied 12 telescopes for a new facility at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile. The location at Paranal, a mountain in the Atacama Desert, offers exceptional photometric conditions.

The observation instruments from Austria are being used in the search for exoplanets as part of a project called "Next-Generation Transit Survey" (NGTS). These are planets which appear when viewed from Earth to directly transit their mother star. This creates tiny shadows from the star’s light which can be measured using sophisticated cameras.

The facility has been designed so that it is fully automated to continuously measure the brightness of many hundreds of thousands of comparatively bright stars and should manage a previously unachieved level of precision for this type of earthbound instrument. The data collected are saved in the ESO archive and made available to astronomers all over the world.

The 12 instruments provided by ASA involve a modified version of the 20cm high-quality commercial telescopes. ASA had already delivered telescopes for the “Solaris” project managed from Poland, which is searching for circumbinary planets, i.e. planets which orbit two stars instead of one.