There is a new “planet hunter” on Earth. it’s called NIRPSthe English acronym for Near-Infrared high resolution spectrograph (or high resolution near-infrared spectrograph) and has now started working on the ESO 3.6 meter telescope of Silla Observatoryin Chile.
The participation of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences (AI) in this innovative instrument, which explores the infrared region, follows AI’s participation in several instruments for the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
Alexandre Cabral (AI & Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon), the researcher responsible for the Instrumentation and Systems for Astronomy Team of the IA, explains: “In this instrument, the IA was responsible for the design, construction and testing of the ADC (Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector), an optical system that corrects the dispersion caused by the atmosphere, and which is fundamental to obtain the best results with NIRPS.
One of the new features of this instrument is the powerful adaptive optics system, a technique that cancels out the effects of turbulence in our atmosphere. Thus, on the surface of the Earth, this system simulates conditions similar to those in space, which greatly increases the precision of the instrument.
Nuno Cardoso Santos (AI & dept. physics and astronomy given Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto), the principal investigator of the Planetary Systems Team of AI, specifies: “NIRPS will make it possible to obtain spectra of great precision in the infrared wavelengths, which supplement the data that we currently collect in the visible, with spectrographs such as the HARPSin La Silla, or the ESPRESSOto tram.”
Now that it is operational, scientific work will begin with the NIRPS, which will have relevant AI participation. This spectrograph will focus on the study of rocky exoplanets, the type of planets considered key to deciphering planetary formation and evolution, as well as considered the best candidates for the appearance of life.
Second Elisa Delgado Mena (AI & University of Porto): “We are going to use this instrument to discover new planets around red dwarfs, which, because they are cooler stars, are easier to study in the infrared. NIRPS will also be used to confirm and characterize the candidate planets observed by the space mission. TESS (Nasa), as well as to study in detail the structure and composition of these planets.
NIRPS observations, in combination with those from visible spectrographs, such as ESPRESSO, could also provide important clues about the composition of exoplanets, and even allow the search for signs of life in their atmospheres.
Although the main motivation for the construction of this instrument was the observation of exoplanets, NIRPS will still be used in other fields, in particular in the study of stars. “NIRPS opens the way for us to explore a new spectral region, with a very relevant impact on the study of exoplanets and stellar astrophysics. In this sense, the NIRPS is a very important step in our scientific preparation for new projects, including the ANDESto ELT. “, adds Nuno Santos.