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New Instrument At Arizona's Kitt Peak Observatory To Search For Exoplanets

Kitt Peak National Observatory
(Photo by P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF)
Kitt Peak National Observatory at dusk.

A new instrument to be mounted on a Kitt Peak National Observatory telescope west of Tucson will help NASA look for planets outside our solar system.

The instrument, which is called NEID — short for NN-Explore Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy — will measure the tiny back-and-forth wobble of a star.

That movement is caused by the gravitational tug of a planet in orbit around it. The wobble tells scientists there is a planet orbiting a star and how massive the planet is.

The instrument will be built by a Pennsylvania State University research team and installed on the WIYN Observatory 3.5- meter telescope at Kitt Peak. A partnership between NASA and the National Science Foundation will pay for it.

The device also will allow astronomers to identify targets for future observations with the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

The name NEID is derived from a word meaning to discover or visualize in the language of the Tohono O’odham, on whose land the observatory is located.

Sara Hammond has an extensive background in journalism as well as corporate communication. A graduate of the University of Arizona’s (UA) School of Journalism, Hammond interned at the Tucson Citizen and, after graduation, spent 10 years reporting for the Portland Press Herald in Maine.