A New Planet Hunter Awakens: The NIRPS Instrument Sees Its First Mild

the tool Near infrared planet finder (NIRPS), designed in part at the University of Montreal and University Laval, successfully made its first observations. installed on 3.6m telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, the NIRPS mission is to look for new exoplanets around stars in the solar neighborhood.

This photograph shows the NIRPS instrument and its adaptive optics system installed on ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope. The light collected by the telescope is directed through a series of mirrors before being injected into an optical fiber. With this adaptive optics system, disturbances in the Earth’s atmosphere can be corrected, allowing for sharper observations. Credit: N. Blind (Geneva Observatory)/NIRPS/ESO Consortium.

“NIRPS took a long time to design and I’m so happy to see how this mission was accomplished! exclaims René Doyon, Director ofExoplanet Research Institute It’s fromMont-Megantic Observatory, from the University of Montreal, and one of the researchers responsible for NIRPS. “This amazing infrared instrument will help us find the closest habitable worlds to our own solar system. »

The instrument will focus its research on rocky worlds, which are key targets for understanding how planets form and evolve. They are also the planets where life could likely develop. NIRPS will look for these rocky exoplanets around small, cold red dwarfs — the most common type of star in our galaxy, the Milky Way, which has masses about two to ten times smaller than our Sun.

NIRPS will search for exoplanets for radial velocity method. When a planet orbits a star, its gravitational pull causes the star to wobble slightly, causing its light to change to red (change to red) or blue, depending on whether it is moving away from or towards Earth. By measuring subtle changes in starlight, NIRPS will allow astronomers to measure the planet’s mass as well as other properties.

NIRPS will look for these tiny spectral variations using infrared light, as this is the main range of wavelengths emitted by such small, cool stars. he joins the High precision radial velocity planet finder (HARPS) in search of new rocky worlds. HARPS, which is installed on ESO’s 3.6 m telescope in La Silla Observatory in Chile since 2003, it also uses the radial velocity method, but operates with visible light. Using these two instruments at the same time will allow for a better understanding of these rocky worlds.

Another key difference between the two instruments is that the NIRPS has a powerful adaptive optics system. Adaptive optics is a technique that corrects the effect of atmospheric turbulence, which causes stars to shine. Thanks to this technology, NIRPS will more than double its effectiveness for both detection and study of exoplanets.

“NIRPS joins a very small number of high-performance infrared spectrographs. It is considered a key piece for carrying out observations in synergy with space missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope and other terrestrial observatories”, adds François Bouchy, from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and also the researcher in charge of the NIRPS.

The discoveries made with NIRPS and HARPS will be followed by some of the most powerful observatories in the world, such as the very large telescope and the future Extremely large telescope (for which similar instruments are under development) from ESO in Chile. By working together with space and ground observatories, NIRPS will be able to collect clues about the composition of an exoplanet and even look for signs of life in its atmosphere.

To operate in the infrared, the NIRPS instrument must be kept at extremely low temperatures to prevent heat from interfering with observations. Here we see the cylindrical cryogenic chamber in which the instrument’s optical components are installed. The cryogenic chamber keeps the components in a vacuum environment and cooled to a freezing temperature of -190 degrees Celsius. Credit: F. Bouchy (Geneva Observatory)/NIRPS Consortium/ESO.

NIRPS was built by an international collaboration led by the team at the Mont-Mégantic Observatory and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the University of Montreal in Canada and the Astronomical Observatory at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Much of the mechanical and optical assembly and testing of the instrument has been carried out over the last few years in the laboratories of Optics, Photonics and Lasers Center (COPL) from Laval University by Professor Simon Thibault and his team. The National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Research Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics helped design and build the spectrograph.

“After two years of integrating and testing the instrument in the lab, it’s amazing for the optical engineering team to see NIRPS in the sky” says Simon Thibault, affiliated with COPL and iREx and who oversaw the integration and optical testing phases at Université Laval.

Here are the first raw observations from the NIRPS instrument, the spectrum of Barnard’s Star. Each horizontal line corresponds to a narrow region of light where both the star’s absorption lines and the absorption of the Earth’s atmosphere are visible. The dotted lines correspond to the frequency comb, a “ruler” that serves as a reference for the horizontal lines so that scientists can tell which wavelengths of light they correspond to. Credit: ESO/NIRPS Consortium.

Many Canadian NIRPS members worked at the La Silla site during the instrument’s commissioning period and will continue to do so in the coming months to support the instrument’s science operations. The NIRPS science team, which includes several Canadian astronomers, will have 720 nights on the instrument in its first 5 years of science operations due to their significant contribution to the project. While the entire team is excited about the first light of NIRPS, we can say that the best is yet to come!

For more informations

The institutes involved in the NIRPS consortium are the University of Montreal, Canada; University of Geneva, Astronomical Observatory, Switzerland; the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, Porto, Portugal; the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain; the University of Grenoble, France; and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.

The Canadian NIRPS team, led by the University of Montreal/Institute for Research on Exoplanets/Mont-Mégantic Observatory and including Laval University, the Herzberg Research Center in Astronomy and Astrophysics of the National Council of Canada and the Royal Military College, received funding. the Canada Innovation Fund to build the NIRPS instrument.


Rene Doyon
Professor, NIRPS Co-Principal Investigator
Institute for Research on Exoplanets, Mont-Mégantic Observatory — University of Montreal
Phone: +1 514 343 6111 x3204
Email: rene.doyon@umontreal.ca

Frederico Barão
Deputy NIRPS Project Manager
Mont-Mégantic Observatory — University of Montreal
Phone: +1 514 277 2858
Email: frederique.baron@umontreal.ca

Simon Thibault
Professor, member of the optical engineering team at NIRPS
Center for Optics, Photonics and Lasers — Université Laval
Phone: +1 418 656 2131 x 412766
Email: simon.thibault@phy.ulaval.ca

Anne-Sophie Poulin-Girard
Research professional, member of the optical engineering team at NIRPS
Center for Optics, Photonics and Lasers — Université Laval
Phone: +1 418 656 2131 x 404646
Email: anne-sophie.poulin-girard@copl.ulaval.ca

Nathalie Ouellette
Institute for Research on Exoplanets – University of Montreal
Phone: +1 613 531 1762
Email: nathalie.ouellette.2@umontreal.ca


ESO press release

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