NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have selected a team to build a new precision-seeking instrument that will allow the them to search for planets outside the solar system, known as exoplanets.
The new device measures the tiny movements of a star caused by the gravitational tug of a planet in orbit around it. The movement tells scientists there is a planet orbiting the star, and the size of the movement indicates how big the planet is.
The instrument – named NEID and to be built by a Pennsylvania State University research group – will be attached to the meter WIYN telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.
“The NEID instrument is a critical part of NASA’s partnership with NSF; this state-of-art precision instrument will enable the community to search for new worlds using the WIYN Telescope,” said NASA Astrophysics Division Director, Paul Hertz.
Using NEID NASA will be able to search out and study new planets and planetary systems, as well as follow-up the discoveries of NASA’s planet-hunting missions Kepler, K2 and the in-development Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
The Kepler spacecraft has already been responsible for the discovery of thousands of transiting planets and revealed that small planets are abundant in the Galaxy.
“We look forward to many new discoveries that can then be further explored using NASA’s space telescopes,” Hertz said of the NEID instrument.
NASA and NSF established a partnership in February 2015 to take advantage of the full National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) share of the Kitt Peak telescope.
The goal is to provide the science community with the tools and access to conduct ground-based observations that advance exoplanet science, and support the observations of NASA space astrophysics missions.
Simultaneous with the NEID instrument development, NASA will manage an exoplanet-targeted Guest Observer program, and is currently seeking submissions.
NASA expects the NEID instrument to be operational in 2019.