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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday October 11 2017, @07:44PM   Printer-friendly
from the not-available-for-home-use dept.

A new, low-cost telescope attachment has been developed that will allow astronomers with ground-based telescopes to observe exoplanets with a similar resolution usually reserved for space-bourne telescopes in orbit.

The attachment, which was created by Penn State astronomers, in close collaboration with the nanofabrication labs at RPC Photonics in New York, spreads incoming light across an image with a carefully structured micro-optic device to minimise distortions from the Earth's atmosphere.

This device is known as a diffuser, or a "beam-shaping diffuser" to be more precise and this adaptable and affordable small piece of glass can be easily shaped to mount onto a variety of telescopes.

"This inexpensive technology delivers high photometric precision in observations of exoplanets as they transit – cross in front of – the bright stars that they orbit," said Gudmundur Stefansson, graduate student at Penn State, NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow, and lead author of a recently published paper that describes the diffusers. "This technology is especially relevant considering the impending launch of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) early in 2018. It is up to ground-based facilities to rapidly and reliably follow-up on candidate planets that are identified by TESS."

The diffuser has already been tested on the 0.6 metre Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory in California, and in all cases the images produced with the new technology maintained a relatively consistent size, shape, and intensity, compared with those using conventional methods, which have a tendency to fluctuate in size and intensity.

Toward Space-like Photometric Precision from the Ground with Beam-shaping Diffusers (DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aa88aa) (DX).

Original Penn State press release.

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by bob_super on Wednesday October 11 2017, @08:05PM (3 children)

    by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday October 11 2017, @08:05PM (#580754)

    > already been tested on the 0.6 metre Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory in California

    Also known as the 200-inch telescope, the Hale Telescope on Mount Palomar is 5.1m, not 0.6m.
    Metric is hard, or wrong telescope? []
    (took the guided visit recently, that's one impressive piece of engineering)

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by takyon on Wednesday October 11 2017, @08:12PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday October 11 2017, @08:12PM (#580766) Journal

      Maybe they are not using the whole thing? Emphasis mine:

      Up until the year 2010, telescopes could only directly image exoplanets under exceptional circumstances. Specifically, it is easier to obtain images when the planet is especially large (considerably larger than Jupiter), widely separated from its parent star, and hot so that it emits intense infrared radiation. However, in 2010 a team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory demonstrated that a vortex coronagraph could enable small scopes to directly image planets.[24] They did this by imaging the previously imaged HR 8799 planets using just a 1.5 m portion of the Hale telescope.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @12:34AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @12:34AM (#580873)

      It's pretty typical for a telescope site to install additional telescopes, so this could be some little thing a few hundred feet away from the main one.

      This could also be a metric conversion error.