New Exoplanet-hunting Telescopes worked on by Leicester scientists

A new project involving University scientists will search for transiting exoplanets — planets that pass in front of their parent star and hence produce a slight dimming of the star’s light that can be detected by sensitive instruments.

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), a wide-field observing system made up of an array of twelve telescopes, has achieved first light at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in northern Chile.

The telescopes will focus on discovering Neptune-sized and smaller planets, with diameters between two and eight times that of Earth.

Dr Mike Goad, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: NGTS achieves a level of accuracy unprecedented in all previous ground-based wide field surveys, and has the potential to discover significant numbers of Neptune sized to super-Earth sized exoplanets around stars that are sufficiently bright for the all-important follow-up studies with larger ground- and space-based facilities."

The Leicester team, led by Dr Mike Goad, comprises Dr Matthew Burleigh, Dr Sarah Casewell, Andrew Grange and Alex Chaushev. Leicester plays a key role within the NGTS consortium, using Space Research Centre facilities to characterise the performance of each of the 12 NGTS cameras.

NGTS is designed to operate in a robotic mode and it will continuously monitor the brightness of hundreds of thousands of comparatively bright stars in the southern skies. It is searching for transiting exoplanets and will reach a level of accuracy in measuring the brightness of stars — one part in a thousand — that has never before been attained with a ground-based wide-field survey instrument.