A team of researchers from the Penn State University has been selected by NASA to build a $10 million state-of-the-art instrument that will detect and search for exoplanets. The selected team is the winner of a rigorous competition held by NASA in lieu of this esteemed project.

An exoplanet is also known as an extrasolar planet, and it is a planet that orbits a star other than the Sun, i.e. beyond our solar system.

Spearheaded by Suvrath Mahadevan, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, this cutting-edge instrument is expected to be built by the year 2019. Once completed, it will be installed on the WIYN telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona.

"We are privileged to have been selected to build this new instrument for the exoplanet community. This is a testament to our multi-institutional and interdisciplinary team of talented graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and senior scientists," says Mahadevan.

NASA, in a joint partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF), is the force behind the making of this incredible machine. The highly sophisticated project has been aptly named the NASA-NSF Exoplanet Observational Research program (NN-EXPLORE).

The search for exoplanets outside of our solar system by this new planet-detector will be leveraging Doppler Spectroscopy. Hence, the instrument has been pertinently named NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy (NEID).

NEID presumably means "to discover" in the language that the Tohono O'odham tribe speaks. The tribe governs the land where Kitt Peak is located.

The NEID planet-finder is slated to detect exoplanets by measuring the wobbling nature of a star. Stars tend to wobble if a planet is orbiting it, owing to the gravitational forces in action surrounding it. While the wobble of the star confirms that a planet is orbiting it, the size of the planet can be determined by the magnitude of the wobble. The bigger the size of the wobble, the bigger the size of the planet.

This groundbreaking tool will hunt for exoplanets outside of our solar system, particularly those that are most similar in nature to our very own planet Earth.

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