From European Southern Observatory: “HARPS Sees Sunshine for the First Time”

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From European Southern Observatory

17 May 2018

Xavier Dumusque
HELIOS Principal Investigator
University of Geneva
Geneva, Switzerland
Email: Xavier.Dumusque@unige.ch

Richard Hook
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: pio@eso.org

ESO La Silla HELIOS (HARPS Experiment for Light Integrated Over the Sun)

In April 2018, a team composed of scientists and engineers from the Geneva Observatory and ESO were at the La Silla Observatory to commission HELIOS (HARPS Experiment for Light Integrated Over the Sun) [1]. This novel device was built under an agreement between ESO, the University of Geneva and the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto [2].

HELIOS is a solar telescope feeding the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument, which is attached to the ESO 3.6-metre telescope.

HARPS is one of the most powerful planet hunters in existence and spends most nights monitoring stars for minute signals that indicate the presence of an exoplanet. HARPS has unparalleled accuracy and is regularly generating results that will present fresh challenges for future telescopes such as ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope.

HELIOS will be able to feed sunlight into HARPS to achieve very high precision spectroscopy of the Sun for several hours per day [3]. As well as learning about the Sun itself, and in particular improving our understanding of stellar activity (which is the main limitation in the detection of Earth-twins using HARPS), the HELIOS project will lead to an improvement of exoplanet detection techniques.

The large volumes of data from HELIOS will also allow very detailed investigations into the different HARPS instrumental effects and may lead to improvements in the precision of HARPS itself. This information could be transferred and applied to ESPRESSO (Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations), which is the successor to HARPS and is attached to ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

The HELIOS project will run until the end of 2022.
Notes

[1] The commissioning team consisted of: Xavier Dumusque (Principal Investigator, Geneva), Pedro Figueira (co-Principal Investigator, ESO), François Wildi (system engineer, Geneva), Gaspare LoCurto (ESO), Thibault Pirson and Thibault Wildi (engineering students).

[2] The project is led by the University of Geneva, through its Geneva Observatory, and includes as a partner the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, through its Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço.

[3] The HELIOS observing facility consists of a lens that focuses an image of the Sun into an integrating sphere. Light exits the sphere through a 30-metre optical fibre connected to the HARPS calibration unit. The whole setup is enclosed in a weather-resistant and waterproof box topped by a plexiglass dome.

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ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

ESO La Silla HELIOS (HARPS Experiment for Light Integrated Over the Sun)

ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at Cerro LaSilla, Chile, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO/Cerro LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO VLT Platform at Cerro Paranal elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft)

ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

Glistening against the awesome backdrop of the night sky above ESO_s Paranal Observatory, four laser beams project out into the darkness from Unit Telescope 4 UT4 of the VLT.

ESO/NTT at Cerro La Silla, Chile, at an altitude of 2400 metres

ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, at an altitude 3,046 m (9,993 ft)

ESO/APEX high on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, at an altitude of over 4,800 m (15,700 ft)

Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO ExTrA telescopes at Cerro LaSilla at an altitude of 2400 metres