Advanced DARKNESS camera could reveal hidden planets

The world's most advanced camera, DARKNESS, might one day reveal planets that hide within their host stars' light.
By Tyler MacDonald | Apr 17, 2018
An international team of researchers has developedtheDARK-speckle Near-infrared Energy-resolved Superconducting Spectrophotometer(DARKNESS), which is the world's most advanced camera, according to The 10,000-pixel integral field spectrograph might be able to reveal planets that are hiding in the light of their host stars by differentiating the light emitted by the two.

"Taking a picture of an exoplanet is extremely challenging because the star is much brighter than the planet, and the planet is very close to the star," said Benjamin Mazin, lead researcher of a recent study on DARKNESS.

DARKNESS is designed to fit the 200-inch Hale telescope that is locatedat the Palomar Observatory in California. And in addition to being a camera, it functions as a focal-plan wave-front sensor. Its sensor is able to measure light from stars and planets at a fast enough rate to adjust its light-collecting mirror at a whopping 2,000 time per second.

The unique capabilities of DARKNESS means it can counteract atmospheric distortions and achieve increased contrast ratios between different light sources, such as a planet and a star.

The team is still working on working out the kinks in DARKNESS, and they hope to continue developing it and improving its contrast ratio.

"Our hope is that one day we will be able to build an instrument for the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii or La Palma," said Mazin. "With that, we'll be able to take pictures of planets in the habitable zones of nearby low mass stars and look for life in their atmospheres. That's the long-term goal and this is an important step toward that."

The findings were published in thePublications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.


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