Tucson, AZ

University of Arizona’s NEID Instrument spectrometer now in service at Kitt Peak Observatory

Alistair Dominguez

TUCSON, AZ — The NEID spectrometer, a new tool for discovering planets outside of the milky way, has begun its operation at Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona.

As the most precise tools ever built to detect exoplanets, NEID measures planets' gravitational tug on their host stars to discover new celestial bodies.

"The instrument is performing exceptionally well, more than beating our precision requirement, and we believe it is sensitive to planets only slightly larger than the earth", said Chad Bender, NEID's instrument scientist and an associate astronomer at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory.

NASA/NSF Exoplanet Exploration Program funds the instrument. It receives the approval to operate after successfully passing the final review by NASA and the National Science Foundation. The university serves as a center to NEID software's pipeline to tell the astronomers about any planets orbiting a star unreachable directly by the tool.

NEID, which stands for NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler spectroscopy, uses a 3.5-meters WIYN telescope to detect exoplanets by their wobble, a measurable periodic shift signal velocity of the gravitational force between the planets and stars they orbit. It can measure the wobble more than twice as the existing instrument to search for Earth-like planets.

Ever-changing stellar activity can pose a challenge to the instrument's measurements to detect rocky planets like Earth. To better understand the problem, the NEID team uses a small telescope to focus the tool on the sun during the daytime.

Taran Esplin, a postdoctoral researcher at Steward Observatory and a NEID team member, states the NEID team will release all observation data publicly to provide information about stellar activity and performance of the instrument.

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