A new planet hunter is on the watch

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The cylindrical cryogenic chamber in which the optical components of the NIRPS i
The cylindrical cryogenic chamber in which the optical components of the NIRPS instrument are installed. The cryogenic chamber maintains the components in a vacuum environment and cooled to a freezing temperature of -190 degrees Celsius.

The Near InfraRed Planet Searcher instrument, designed in part at Laval University, has successfully made its first observations

The Near InfraRed Planet Searcher (NIRPS) instrument, designed in part at the University of Montreal and Laval University, has successfully made its first observations. Installed on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, NIRPS’ mission is to search for new exoplanets around stars in the solar neighborhood.

NIRPS was built by an international collaboration led by the team of the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic and theInstitut de recherche sur les exoplanètes de l’Université de Montréal in Canada and the Observatoire astronomique de l’Université de Genève in Switzerland. A large part of the assembly and the mechanical and optical tests of the spectrograph of the instrument were carried out during the last years in the laboratories of the Centre d’Astronomie du Québec.years in the laboratories of the Centre d’optique, photonique et lasers (COPL) of Laval University by Professor Simon Thibault and his team. The Herzberg Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics contributed to the design and construction of the spectrograph.

After two years of integration and testing of the instrument in the laboratory, it is amazing for the optical engineering team to see NIRPS on the sky," says Simon Thibault, who is affiliated with COPL and the Exoplanet Research Institute and who supervised the integration and optical testing phases at Laval University. at COPL and the Exoplanet Research Institute and who supervised the integration and optical testing phases at Laval University.

In order to operate in the infrared, the NIRPS instrument must be maintained at extremely cold temperatures to prevent heat from interfering with the observations.

The instrument will focus its research on rocky worlds, which are key targets for understanding how planets form and evolve. These are also the planets where life is most likely to develop. NIRPS will search for these rocky exoplanets around small, cool red dwarfs - the most common type of stars in our Milky Way galaxy, which have masses about 2 to 10 times smaller than our sun. NIRPS will be used in conjunction with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in the hunt for new rocky worlds. HARPS, which has been installed on ESO’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile since 2003, also uses the radial velocity method, but operates using visible light. Using these two instruments at the same time will allow a better understanding of these rocky worlds.

NIRPS joins a very small number of high-performance infrared spectrographs. It is seen as a key piece of equipment for making observations in synergy with space missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and other ground-based observatories," said François Bouchy of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, who is also one of the researchers in charge of the NIRPS project.

Discoveries made with NIRPS and HARPS will be followed by some of the world’s most powerful observatories, such as the Very Large Telescope and the future Extremely Large Telescope (for which similar instruments are being developed) at ESO in Chile. By working together with both space-based and Earth-based observatories, NIRPS will be able to collect clues about the composition of an exoplanet and even search for signs of life in its atmosphere.