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Friday, December 17, 2010

Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer sees First Llight

Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer sees First Light
Click on the image to enlarge

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer saw "first light" in the beginning of this month. The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer has taken its first images of the star Beta Peg in the constellation Pictor - an encouraging start for an instrument designed to probe the cosmic neighborhoods where Earth-like planets could exist.
Eight years in development, the NASA-funded instrument combines beams of light from twin 8.4-meter (28-foot) mirrors mounted atop the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham, Arizona, USA. Together, the two mirrors form the largest single-mount telescope in the world.
With this high-resolution imaging capability, astronomers hope to probe nearby solar systems - specifically, the areas in these systems where Earth-like planets with liquid water could exist. Though the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer won't be able to detect Earth-size planets, it will be able to see dust disks that are indicative of planet formation, in addition to detecting large, Jupiter-size planets farther out from the star. These findings will help future, space-based exoplanet missions know where to search for Earth-like planets in our own galactic neighborhood.
With its ability to probe this "habitable zone" of other solar systems, the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer will also complement the capabilities of other NASA missions - the Keck Interferometer, which can find dust very close to stars; and the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is adept at observing planet-forming dust that is much more distant.
With a major upgrade of the Large Binocular Telescope's adaptive optics system scheduled for next year, the interferometer will undergo testing and commissioning for the majority of 2011, and during that time, scientific observations will begin. The interferometer will be able to image exoplanets, but also extragalactic objects, nebulae and galaxies.
The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer is funded by NASA and managed by Ben Parvin at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, as part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program. The instrument and product development are provided by the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Credit: Large Binocular Telescope Observatory

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