University of Florida astronomy professor Jian Ge is the primary recipient of a $500,000 grant to build the third in a series of Exoplanet Trackers to detect extrasolar Earth-like planets.

Above: University of Florida astronomy professor Jian Ge is the primary recipient of a $500,000 grant to build the third in a series of Exoplanet Trackers to detect extrasolar Earth-like planets.

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Grant to Help Astronomy Department Search Skies for Habitable Planets

At a time when astronomers are searching for Earth-like planets, the University of Florida has received a grant for $500,000 to lead the pack.

The grant was donated by the Dharma Endowment Foundation of Alachua to further humankind’s knowledge of the universe and continue the search for extra solar planets that are capable of harboring life.

“If we are lucky, we will be able to find more habitable planets by nearby bright stars,” said Jian Ge, astronomy professor and main beneficiary of the grant.

The grant is providing the momentum to build the third extremely high precision Exoplanet Tracker to form an initial network. The goal is to have a total of seven network instruments for searching the sky over the 24-hour base instead of only nightly base with the traditional planet search using a single site telescope. The Exoplanet Tracker technology has been developed by Ge’s team over the past 10 years. This system, using the Doppler technique, which is responsible for discovering 80 percent of known planets by precious instruments, will be quicker, more reliable and cheaper than the previous technology to detect exoplanets, especially low mass planets.

“Our aim is to have the network completely functional by 2014 but hopefully earlier if we can raise enough money,” Ge said.

There is an Exoplanet Tracker in Arizona already working and investigating the skies. The second Exoplanet Tracker is packed and ready to be sent to China for first light in early December. The third Exoplanet Tracker, which is what the grant supports, will be created and installed at one of the network telescopes by the end of 2011. If Ge reaches his final goal of seven instruments, his team would be able to cross-reference data and check for errors. Also, if the Tracker were in a city with bad weather, another one could take over so that data would be taken 24 hours a day. This will greatly speed up planet detection rate and also offer high sensitivity in locating Earth like planets, including habitable ones.

To find out more information about the astronomy program at the University of Florida, please visit http://www.astro.ufl.edu.

Credits

Writer

Callie Polk

Source

Jian Ge, jge@astro.ufl.edu, 352-392-2052 ext. 228

Photo and Art

Jane Dominguez, T. Rieckan

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