The search for an exoplanet that can support life just expanded today as the European Space Observatory (ESO) unveiled its newest telescope, the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS). The telescope will rest at the ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile.
This new telescope will use the transit method to find exoplanets. This is a method in which telescopes focus on the light of a star, searching for times when that light is dimmed by a passing exoplanet. This allows researchers to find exoplanets that don't produce enough light for telescopes to see them. This is the same method that NASA's Kepler mission uses to detect exoplanets.
However, the NGTS telescope will cover ground that Kepler currently doesn't cover. The Kepler mission is focusing on planets as large as or smaller than Earth, but the NGTS telescope is looking for planets that are anywhere from twice to eight times the size of the Earth's diameter.
"Super-Earths are very diverse, but we don't understand them very well," said Peter Wheatley, one of the heads of this project.
To get a better grasp on this type of planet, the team is trying to catalogue as many exoplanets as possible and study the topography of each planet.
The NGTS consists of twelve individual telescopes. The data from each telescope will be publicly available to astronomers in the ESO archive.
The NGTS team chose the Paranal Observatory as a location because Chile has mostly clear skies and dry nights, allowing for ideal observing conditions. The NGTS team said that this will give the project greater accuracy.
"We are excited to begin our search for small planets around nearby stars. The NGTS discoveries, and follow-up observations by telescopes on the ground and in space, will be important steps in our quest to study the atmospheres and composition of small planets such as the Earth," Wheatley said.
The Kepler telescope began a new mission last month, and is also hard at work uncovering exoplanets. With two super-powerful telescopes turning to the skies beyond our universe, 2015 should be an exciting year for exoplanet discoveries.