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Thu Dec 6, 2018, 12:40 AM

New SPECULOOS Telescope Sees First Light. Soon it'll be Seeing Habitable Planets Around Ultra-Cool S

New SPECULOOS Telescope Sees First Light. Soon it’ll be Seeing Habitable Planets Around Ultra-Cool Stars

Our newest planet-hunting telescope is up and running at the ESO’s Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. SPECULOOS, which stands for Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars, is actually four 1-meter telescopes working together. The first images from the ‘scopes are in, and though it hasn’t found any other Earths yet, the images are still impressive.

The four telescopes that make up SPECULOOS are each named after a Galilean moon: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. It’s operated by the European Southern Observatory, and is neighbours with the ESO’s flagship telescope, the VLT (Very Large Telescope). It enjoys excellent seeing conditions, high in the dry Andes, where there is hardly any rainfall or cloud.

SPECULOOS’s mission is to find Earth-like habitable planets around ultra-cool stars, including brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are also known as “sub-stellar” objects, or “failed stars” because they didn’t gain enough mass during their formation to turn on hydrogen fusion. Instead, they may fuse deuterium or possibly lithium. They occupy a niche between the largest gas giant planets and the smallest stars.

. . .

Ultra-cool stars is a category that includes brown dwarfs, but also includes very low-mass red dwarf stars. Astronomers think that ultra-cool stars and brown dwarf stars make up about 15 % of the stars in our neighborhood.

. . .

The telescopes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory gaze out into the stunning night
sky over the Atacama Desert, Chile. Image Credit: ESO/ P. Horálek


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