World's most powerful telescope will spot exoplanets with lasers

Credit: ESO

Both the Hubble telescope and NASA’s Kepler spacecraft have been key in discovering planets outside our solar system. In fact, some of these planets might be habitable (by something). However, as Hubble is over 20 years old, much of its technology is outdated. As far as Kepler goes? It’s lost two of its positioning wheels and could be down for the count. Fortunately, an international team of astronomers is working on the EELT (European Extremely Large Telescope), which has new laser technology that can see more planets, including those smaller than what we’ve previously discovered.

Once built, the EELT will be the world’s largest and most powerful infrared telescope. The lasers designed for the EELT will allow it to search for planets with more accuracy than ever before. Current telescopes commonly search for planets by using variations of light: these variations generally indicate a planet transiting a star. The EELT will be able to detect even fainter variations, differences current telescopes are not able to pick out. The new lasers, which project a pattern similar to that of a comb, will use the the spectrum of infrared light to detect these tiny variations, allowing astronomers to observe smaller planets, including those the size of Earth or Mars. Current telescopes only see larger-sized planets, those around the size of Jupiter.

The EELT’s lasers will also be able to detect planets that are farther away, as well as observe early stages of planetary evolution. It will even be able to look for the presence of water and other building blocks of life on exoplanets, perhaps finding out for certain if life exists outside of our solar system. A team of Scottish scientists recently received a large grant to begin construction of the lasers for the telescope. The EELT will begin its hunt for exoplanets within the next 10 years.

Via The Scotsman

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