From the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory, a “first light” image of M83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy.Credit: SPECULOOS Team / E. Jehin / ESO

Granted, the M83 galaxy is gorgeous.

But the picture is just a prelude, a test image taken by the new planet-hunting SPECULOOS telescopes.

The four instruments—activated, calibrated, evaluated—now await New Year’s Day 2019, when the real search starts.

From then on, rather than gleaming galaxies, SPECULOOS glimpses only the haziest of shadows, cosmic silhouettes trillions of miles away.

The goal, however, is crystal clear.

“We want to detect potentially habitable Earth-sized planets,” says Michael Gillon, the project’s principal investigator.

The Horsehead Nebula, another first light image from SPECULOOS, “captured to celebrate a new telescope commencing operations,” says the European Southern Observatory.Credit: SPECULOOS Team / E. Jehin / ESO

Yet another first light image from SPECULOOS — the Carina Nebula. The four telescopes are named after Jupiter’s Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.Credit: SPECULOOS Team / E. Jehin / ESO

The SPECULOOS telescopes begin with the smallest of targets: ultra-cool dwarf stars, approximately one-tenth the size of the Sun and less than half as hot. “Very tiny and very cold,” says Gillon.

Also very close—all are just dozens of light years from Earth (one light year is about six trillion miles).

“That’s our neighborhood,” Gillon says.

The telescopes aren‘t powerful enough to actually see planets. Instead, SPECULOOS will point at their stars, searching for transits—eclipse-like events, when a planet moves between the star and telescope.

“When a fraction of a star is hidden by the planet, we detect the drop in brightness,” Gillon says. Confirm that through repeat observations, and astronomers can infer a world is there.

The small size of the stars helps. Ghostly blurs become slightly more discernible. “We focus on these tiny objects,” he says, “because when the planet passes in front of them, the signal we detect will be stronger.”

SPECULOOS will look at 1,000 stars. Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, hopes to discover “dozens of planets” within a few years.

Below a night sky, the telescopes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert.Credit: ESO / P. Horalek

The telescopes reside in the eeriest of locales—at the Paranal Observatory in Chile’s remote Atacama Desert, an otherworldly milieu of brownish soil and rock evocative of Mars. With virtually no rain, Atacama is one of the driest spots on Earth.

But the perfect place to see stars.

“Conditions there are unique,” says Gillon. There are nearly no clouds and no city lights.

“This,” he says, “is the paradise of astronomy.”

Another view of the SPECULOOS telescopes.Credit: ESO

And another.Credit: ESO

“Earth-sized” and “Earth-like” are two different things. The SPECULOOS worlds, certainly, are not our twins. “To say Earth-like is a bit too extreme,” Gillon cautions.

Typically, ultra-cool dwarf stars bombard orbiting planets with stellar flares and deadly radiation for billions of years. Landscapes might be sterilized, atmospheres obliterated; without an atmosphere, liquid surface water can’t exist.

“It’s possible these planets were fried—cooked by the star when it was bigger and hotter,” he says.

Scientists presume these worlds are also tidally-locked. Thats when half the planet forever faces its host star; the other side is perpetually dark.

Understates Gillon: “This is not Earth-like.”

Artist’s conception of a host star’s stellar flare hitting a planet.Credit: NASA

And now, the kicker.

About 232 trillion miles away, in the constellation Aquarius, is the TRAPPIST-1 system—an ultra-cool dwarf star clinching seven cramped Earth-sized worlds, all with rocky surfaces.

Gillon’s team discovered three of the planets in2015 With help from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, they found the remaining four in 2017.

Then a 2018 study indicated two of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, both orbiting in the habitable zone, could hold liquid water.

Now theres a template, Gillon thought: a multiplanet system with perhaps a life-friendly world or two. TRAPPIST-1, he says, suggests such systems are common. With the new telescopes, he hopes to find TRAPPIST-1 analogues—lots of them.

“Maybe,” he speculates, “the frequency of potentially habitable planets around ultra-cool dwarf stars is really, really large.”

If so, then “SPECULOOS should detect plenty of systems like TRAPPIST-1.”

Artist’s concept. The seven TRAPPIST-1 planets.Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Abstract of the TRAPPIST-1 system.Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / R. Hurt

SPECULOOS is strictly a discovery machine. The finer points—like whether or not a planet is habitable—are left to others. NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for a 2021 launch, will analyze the atmospheres of exoworlds; a “significant fraction” of the SPECULOOS discoveries “will be well suited for the James Webb,” Gillon says. Should the Webb find oxygen on a world, it’s a hint—though not a certainty—that the planet is alive.

In the meantime, says Gillon, SPECULOOS will “build the largest possible catalog of Earth-sized planets for Webb.”

That catalog is essential. So little is known; the search for extraterrestrial life has barely begun. Some call it quixotic. But most of all, its a slog.

“It might take centuries to get the final answer,” Gillon says. “The hope is what motivates us.” Even in perhaps the most parched place on Earth, hope springs eternal.

An overhead view of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory.Credit: tau-tec GmbH

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From the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory, a” very first light” picture of M83, likewise referred to as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy. Credit: SPECULOOS
Group/ E. Jehin/ ESO

Given, the M83 galaxy is

stunning.

However the image is simply a start, a test image taken by the brand-new planet-hunting SPECULOOS telescopes.

The 4 instruments– triggered, adjusted, assessed– now wait for Brand-new Year’s Day 2019, when the genuine search begins.

After That, instead of shining galaxies, SPECULOOS peeks just the haziest of shadows, cosmic shapes trillions of miles away.

The objective, nevertheless, is clear.

” We wish to spot possibly habitable Earth-sized worlds,” states Michael Gillon, the job’s primary private investigator

The Horsehead Nebula, another very first light image from SPECULOOS, “caught to commemorate a brand-new telescope beginning operations,” states the European Southern Observatory. Credit: SPECULOOS Group/ E. Jehin/ ESO

Yet another very first light image

from SPECULOOS– the Carina Nebula. The 4 telescopes are called after Jupiter’s Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Credit: SPECULOOS Group/ E. Jehin/ ESO

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The SPECULOOS telescopes start with the tiniest of targets: ultra-cool dwarf stars, roughly one-tenth the size of the Sun and less than half as hot. “Extremely small and really cold,” states Gillon.

Likewise really close– all are simply lots of light years from Earth (one light year has to do with 6 trillion miles).

” That’s our area,” Gillon states.

The telescopes aren‘ t effective sufficient to in fact see worlds. Rather, SPECULOOS will point at their stars, looking for transits— eclipse-like occasions, when a world moves in between the star and telescope.

” When a portion of a star is concealed by the world, we spot the drop in brightness,” Gillon states. Verify that through repeat observations, and astronomers can presume a world exists.

The little size of the stars assists. Ghostly blurs ended up being somewhat more noticeable. “We concentrate on these small things,” he states, “since when the world passes in front of them, the signal we spot will be more powerful.”

SPECULOOS will take a look at 1,000 stars. Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, wants to find “lots of worlds” within a couple of years.

Listed below a night sky, the telescopes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Credit: ESO/ P. Horalek(*********** )

The
telescopes live in the eeriest of places– at the Paranal Observatory in Chile’s remote Atacama Desert, a transcendent scene of brownish soil and rock expressive of Mars. With practically no rain, Atacama is among the driest areas in the world.

(************ )However the ideal location to see stars

.

” Conditions there are special,” states Gillon. There are almost no clouds and no city lights.

” This,” he states, “is the paradise of astronomy.”

Another view of the SPECULOOS telescopes.(********* )Credit: ESO

And another. Credit: ESO(*********** )(***** )

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” Earth-sized” and” Earth-like” are 2 various things. The SPECULOOS worlds, definitely, are not our twins.” To state Earth-like is a bit too severe,” Gillon warns.

Usually, ultra-cool dwarf stars bombard orbiting worlds with outstanding flares and lethal radiation for billions of years. Landscapes may be disinfected, environments wiped out; without an environment, liquid surface area water can’t exist.

” It’s possible these worlds were fried– prepared by the star when it was larger and hotter,” he states.

Researchers presume these worlds are likewise tidally-locked. That s when half the world permanently faces its host star; the opposite is constantly dark.

Downplays Gillon: “This is not Earth-like.”

Artist’s conception of a host star’s outstanding flare striking a world. Credit: NASA

And now, the kicker.

About 232 trillion miles away, in the constellation Aquarius, is the TRAPPIST-1 system— an ultra-cool dwarf star clinching 7 confined Earth-sized worlds, all with rocky surface areas.

Gillon’s group found 3 of the worlds in2015 With aid from NASA’s Spitzer Area Telescope, they discovered the staying 4 in 2017.

Then a 2018 research study suggested 2 of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds, both orbiting in the habitable zone, might hold liquid water.

Now there s a design template, Gillon believed: a multiplanet system with maybe a life-friendly world or more. TRAPPIST-1, he states, recommends such systems prevail. With the brand-new telescopes, he wants to discover TRAPPIST-1 analogues– great deals of them.

” Possibly,” he hypothesizes, “the frequency of possibly habitable worlds around ultra-cool dwarf stars is actually, actually big.”

If so, then “SPECULOOS ought to spot a lot of systems like TRAPPIST-1.”

Artist’s principle. The 7 TRAPPIST-1 worlds. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech

Abstract of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ R. Hurt

SPECULOOS is strictly a discovery maker. The finer points– like whether a world is habitable– are delegated others. NASA’s brand-new James Webb Area Telescope, arranged for a 2021 launch, will evaluate the environments of exoworlds; a “considerable portion” of the SPECULOOS discoveries “will be well matched for the James Webb,” Gillon states. Ought to the Webb discover oxygen on a world, it’s a tip– though not a certainty– that the world lives.

In the meantime, states Gillon, SPECULOOS will “construct the biggest possible brochure of Earth-sized worlds for Webb.”

That brochure is necessary. So little is understood; the look for extraterrestrial life has actually hardly started. Some call it quixotic. However many of all, it s a slog.

” It may take centuries to get the last response,” Gillon states. “The hope is what inspires us.” Even in maybe the most dry put on Earth, hope springs everlasting.

An overhead view of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory. Credit: tau-tec GmbH

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65570934256″ >

.

From the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory, a “very first light” picture of M 83, likewise referred to as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy. Credit: SPECULOOS Group/ E. Jehin/ ESO

.

.

Given, the M 83 galaxy is stunning.

However the image is simply a start, a test image taken by the brand-new planet-hunting SPECULOOS telescopes.

The 4 instruments– triggered, adjusted, assessed– now wait for Brand-new Year’s Day 2019, when the genuine search begins.

After That, instead of shining galaxies, SPECULOOS peeks just the haziest of shadows, cosmic shapes trillions of miles away.

The objective, nevertheless, is clear.

“We wish to spot possibly habitable Earth-sized worlds,” states Michael Gillon, the job’s primary private investigator

.

.

The Horsehead Nebula, another very first light image from SPECULOOS, “caught to commemorate a brand-new telescope beginning operations,” states the European Southern Observatory. Credit: SPECULOOS Group/ E. Jehin/ ESO

.

.

.

Yet another very first light image from SPECULOOS– the Carina Nebula. The 4 telescopes are called after Jupiter’s Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Credit: SPECULOOS Group/ E. Jehin/ ESO

.

.

The SPECULOOS telescopes start with the tiniest of targets: ultra-cool dwarf stars, roughly one-tenth the size of the Sun and less than half as hot. “Extremely small and really cold,” states Gillon.

Likewise really close– all are simply lots of light years from Earth (one light year has to do with 6 trillion miles).

“That’s our area,” Gillon states.

The telescopes aren ‘ t effective sufficient to in fact see worlds. Rather, SPECULOOS will point at their stars, looking for transits — eclipse-like occasions, when a world moves in between the star and telescope.

“When a portion of a star is concealed by the world, we spot the drop in brightness,” Gillon states. Verify that through repeat observations, and astronomers can presume a world exists.

The little size of the stars assists. Ghostly blurs ended up being somewhat more noticeable. “We concentrate on these small things,” he states, “since when the world passes in front of them, the signal we spot will be more powerful.”

SPECULOOS will take a look at 1, 000 stars. Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, wants to find “lots of worlds” within a couple of years.

.

.

Listed below a night sky, the telescopes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Credit: ESO/ P. Horalek

.

.

The telescopes live in the eeriest of places– at the Paranal Observatory in Chile’s remote Atacama Desert, a transcendent scene of brownish soil and rock expressive of Mars. With practically no rain, Atacama is among the driest areas in the world.

However the ideal location to see stars.

“Conditions there are special, ” states Gillon. There are almost no clouds and no city lights.

“This,” he states, “is the paradise of astronomy.”

.

.

Another view of the SPECULOOS telescopes. Credit: ESO

.

.

“Earth-sized” and “Earth-like” are 2 various things. The SPECULOOS worlds, definitely, are not our twins. “To state Earth-like is a bit too severe,” Gillon warns.

Usually, ultra-cool dwarf stars bombard orbiting worlds with outstanding flares and lethal radiation for billions of years. Landscapes may be disinfected, environments wiped out; without an environment, liquid surface area water can’t exist.

“It’s possible these worlds were fried– prepared by the star when it was larger and hotter,” he states.

Researchers presume these worlds are likewise tidally-locked. That s when half the world permanently faces its host star; the opposite is constantly dark.

Downplays Gillon: “This is not Earth-like.”

.

.

Artist’s conception of a host star’s outstanding flare striking a world. Credit: NASA

.

.

And now, the kicker.

About 232 trillion miles away, in the constellation Aquarius, is the TRAPPIST-1 system — an ultra-cool dwarf star clinching 7 confined Earth-sized worlds, all with rocky surface areas.

Gillon’s group found 3 of the worlds in2015 With aid from NASA’s Spitzer Area Telescope, they discovered the staying 4 in2017

.

Then a 2018 research study suggested 2 of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds, both orbiting in the habitable zone, might hold liquid water.

Now there s a design template, Gillon believed: a multiplanet system with maybe a life-friendly world or more. TRAPPIST-1, he states, recommends such systems prevail. With the brand-new telescopes, he wants to discover TRAPPIST-1 analogues– great deals of them.

“Possibly,” he hypothesizes, “the frequency of possibly habitable worlds around ultra-cool dwarf stars is actually, actually big.”

If so, then “SPECULOOS ought to spot a lot of systems like TRAPPIST-1.”

.

.

Artist’s principle. The 7 TRAPPIST-1 worlds. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech

.

.

.

Abstract of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ R. Hurt

.

.

SPECULOOS is strictly a discovery maker. The finer points– like whether a world is habitable– are delegated others. NASA’s brand-new James Webb Area Telescope , arranged for a 2021 launch, will evaluate the environments of exoworlds; a “considerable portion” of the SPECULOOS discoveries “will be well matched for the James Webb,” Gillon states. Ought to the Webb discover oxygen on a world, it’s a tip– though not a certainty– that the world lives.

In the meantime, states Gillon, SPECULOOS will “construct the biggest possible brochure of Earth-sized worlds for Webb.”

That brochure is necessary. So little is understood; the look for extraterrestrial life has actually hardly started. Some call it quixotic. However many of all, it s a slog.

“It may take centuries to get the last response,” Gillon states. “The hope is what inspires us.” Even in maybe the most dry put on Earth, hope springs everlasting.

.

.

An overhead view of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory. Credit: tau-tec GmbH

.

.

.