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Canary telescope hunts for Earth-like planets

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Canary telescope hunts for Earth-like planets
A night-time view of the Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife. Photo: Shutterstock
13:37 CEST+02:00
A new 'low-cost' telescope on the Spanish island of Tenerife on Wednesday kicked off what will be an international search for nearby planets which could support life.

The Teide Observatory on Tenerife on Wednesday launched the first telescope to be used as part of the Danish-led SONG astronomy programme, whose aim is to scour the Milky Way in search of Earth-like planets.

Eventually, eight telescopes around the world will form a network designed to improve our understanding of stars and planetary systems, the news website Canarias7 reported on Thursday.

Seven years ago a group of astronomers from the University of Aarhus and the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute had the idea of a global network of small telescopes specifically focused on the study of nearby stars and planetary systems. The dream was to develop a prototype of a new state-of-the-art robotic telescope that was cheap and efficient in operation and scientifically able to make a difference for relatively little money.

SEE ALSO: Spanish scientists find distant 'dying planet' 

At one metre in diameter, the new telescope at the Teide Observatory is smaller than many other modern instruments. It can be controlled remotely via the internet and cost just €4 million ($5.07 million) to build.

The telescope, developed in its entirety at the University of Aarhus and the Niels Bohr Institute, has two main scientific objectives: to measure stellar oscillations in order to better understand the internal structure of stars, and to search the galaxy for exoplanets similar to Earth.  

Some 3,000 exoplanets have been found in the Milky Way, but the vast majority are very different to the planets we know from our own Solar System.  

Since opening in 1964, Teide became one of the first major international observatories, attracting telescopes from different countries around the world because of the excellent astronomical seeing conditions from its vantage point at 2,390 metres (7,841 feet) in full view of the Teide volcano, Spain’s highest peak at 3,718 metres. The observatory is operated by the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics.  

Apart from the telescope in Tenerife, the SONG network is working with partners in China and New Mexico in the United States, with the idea of positioning the other instruments in various locations around the world from South America to South Africa and Australia, among others.

The thinking behind having a network of telescopes working on the same project is that specific objects can be tracked continuously even as the Earth rotates and individual vantage points become inoperative.   

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