Monday, June 22, 2009

HAT South Telescope Network one step closer

Less than a month after the opening of the SkyMapper Telescope a new telescope building has appeared at Siding Spring Observatory.

HAT-South is a network of six identical, fully automated wide field telescopes, which are planned to be located at three sites (Chile: Las Campanas, Australia: Siding Springs, and Namibia: HESS site) in the Southern hemisphere.

The primary purpose of the telescope network is to detect and characterize a large number of extra-solar planets transiting nearby bright stars, and to explore their diversity.

Each site will host two "TH4" units. These TH4 units consist of four 0.18m Takahashi astrographs fitted with Apogee 4Kx4K CCDs. Each TH4 unit monitors 64 square degrees of sky at a time, so each site will be capable of monitoring 128 square degrees of sky.

Operation of HAT-South is a collaboration among the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA), Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) and the Australian National University (ANU).

The network is expected to be ready for initial science operations in late 2009.

The use of the three sites will permit near round-the-clock monitoring of selected fields, and the continuous data-stream will greatly enhance recovery of transits. It will use a network of wide-field telescopes to monitor hundreds of thousands of bright stars, searching for the characteristic dip in light that occurs when a planet passes in front of its host star. With follow-up observations, the planets discovered in this project will be studied extensively to determine their density, temperature, and even atmospheric composition.

The project anticipates a yearly detection rate of approximately 25 planets transiting bright stars.

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I am an amateur astronomer who also gets to study as a professional astronomer. I also enjoy flying light aircraft, reading, writing, social media and sharing my love of the sky with others. I also love to encourage young women and girls to l consider science and technology careers. I am available to do talks or video linkups to schools and other groups.