New Chilean Telescope Is Now Searching for Earth-Like Planets
A newly unveiled telescope in Chile may be revolutionary in discovering relatively small alien planets that are currently orbiting nearby stars. Called the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), may allow scientists to observe the atmospheres of planets that are two to eight times the diameter of Earth, and therefore similar to Earth in their composition.
"We are excited to begin our search for small planets around nearby stars," said project leader Peter Wheatley. "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."
The NGTS is designed to indirectly detect small exoplanets by observing the brightness of their stars. When the planets pass by their stars, they obstruct the light ever-so-slightly, alerting the telescope to their presence. The NGTS can reportedly measure stars' brightness with more accuracy than any other telescope system. Made up of 12 robotically operated telescopes, the survey is designed to observe both the atmospheres of the planets and their compositions, meaning whether they are rocky, gaseous, watery, etc.
ESO officials also stated that they might be able to map the planets' atmospheres while they're in transit, which has been difficult for scientists to ascertain thus far: "During the transit, some of the star's light passes through the planet's atmosphere, if it has one, and leaves a tiny, but detectable, signature. So far, only a few such very delicate observations have been made, but NGTS should provide many more potential targets."