Introducing Artemis, MIT's newest exoplanet-hunting telescope in the SPECULOOS network at Mount Teide in the Canary Islands.
With a new telescope situated high on a plateau in Tenerife, Spain, MIT planetary scientists now have an additional way to search for Earth-sized exoplanets. Artemis, the first telescope of the SPECULOOS Northern Observatory (SNO) was completed at the Mount Teide Observatory, operated by the Insituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) in June 2019. It joins a network of one meter robotic telescopes as part of the SPECULOOS project (Search for habitable Planets ECIipsing ULtra-cOOI Stars), which looks for terrestrial planets orbiting very faint, ultra-cool dwarf stars. The other four network telescopes that make up the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory (SSO) are already scanning the Southern Hemisphere skies at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.
SPECULOOS is led by Michael Gillon at the University of Liége in Belgium in partnership with MIT and several other institutions and financial supporters. Julien de Wit, assistant professor in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and a SPECULOOS collaborator, spearheaded the project's expansion with Artemis. He assumes the role of Artemis principal investigator and SNO co-principal investigator with Gillon.
Picking up near-infrared wavelengths,Artemis will gather pictures of a section of the sky each night, focused on target stars in order to catch the drop in brightness characteristic of a planetary transit. The researchers will examine the roughly 800 nearest ultra-cool dwarf stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere to find more planets that may have a temperate climate and be suitable for in-depth characterization of their atmospheres and molecular composition with the next generation of observatories, like NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the European Space Agency's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). The researchers hope to identify about 15 temperate planets with the SPECULOOS network in time for their atmospheres to be studied with the JWST, which is expected to launch in 2021.
Artemis' unveiling was attended by scientists and dignitaries from MIT, the University of Liége, and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, as well as donors who supported the project. The telescope was funded by MIT donors Peter A. Gilman, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and Colin and Leslie Masson, with additional support from the Ministry of Higher Education of the Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles, and the Balzan Foundation.
"We are delighted to have supported the new Artemis telescope. It was very exciting to see it in action in Tenerife and to meet the international SPECULOOS team," said Colin Masson after the inauguration,"We are looking forward to hearing about their future discoveries!"
The researchers hope to continue to build out the SPECULOOS Northern Observatory. Currently, there is an additional platform ready to host a twin telescope to Artemis, and the project has reserved space to accommodate a total of four telescopes at Teide. A fully-operational SNO will allow them to complete the Northern Hemisphere survey on schedule to take advantage of the more powerful JWST and ELT, which can offer more detailed reviews of the planetary targets discovered by the project.
"With SPECULOOS," de Wit says, "we are giving it our best shot at enabling the identification of habitats beyond Earth within the next decade."
Image credits: D. Padron (top); University of Liége
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