Reaching for the stars and looking for planets

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Photo by Sofia
SEARCHING: The Calar Alto observatory

THE Calar Alto Spanish-German observatory in Gergal (CAHA) has begun assembling and testing ‘Carmenes,’ unique equipment which will search for Earth’s sister planets beyond our solar system.
The observatory, jointly owned and operated by the Max-Plank Astronomy Institute (Heidelberg, Germany) and the Andalucian astrophysics association, IAA-CSIC, is located on the 2,168-metre Calar Alto mountain in Sierra de los Filabres.
The instrument’s full name of “Calar Alto high-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exo-earths with Near-infrared and optical Echelle Spectrographs) provides the acronym Carmenes while revealing its function.
The unique device, which has been developed by a consortium of 11 Spanish and German institutions, will search for Earth-like planets outside the solar system. This is one of the greatest challenges in present-day astrophysics, explained CAHA’s deputy director, Jesus Aceituno.
Carmenes is remarkable for its precision and stability in measuring the minute variations in speed that planets produce in the stars that they are orbiting billions of kilometres away.
The front of the instrument that connects with the 3.5-metre telescope has now been attached. “You could say that this is Carmenes’ eye,” said CAHA’s assistant director, Jesus Aceituno. “We are testing it night and day to be certain it is working perfectly.”
The initiative that began in 2009 is nearing completion and now awaits the arrival of the two spectrographs. “These are due to arrive in July and September,” revealed Pedro Amado of the Andalucia Astrophysics Institute (IAA-CSIC) and the project’s principal investigator.
“Calar Alto’s Spanish and German astronomers will soon be using an instrument that is the only one of its kind in the world,” Amado added.

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