Shot of ESPRESSO seeking life

5-firstlightfoThe Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) has successfully made its first observations. Installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, ESPRESSO will search for exoplanets with unprecedented precision by looking at the minuscule changes in the light of their host stars. For the first time ever, an instrument will be able to sum up the light from all four VLT telescopes and achieve the light collecting power of a 16-meter telescope.

ESPRESSO has achieved first light on ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. This new, third-generation echelle spectrograph is the successor to ESO’s hugely successful HARPS at the La Silla Observatory. HARPS can attain a precision of around one metre per second in velocity measurements, whereas ESPRESSO aims to achieve a precision of just a few centimetres per second, due to advances in technology and its placement on a much bigger telescope.

The lead scientist for ESPRESSO, Francesco Pepe from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, explains its significance: “This success is the result of the work of many people over 10 years. ESPRESSO isn’t just the evolution of our previous instruments like HARPS, but it will be transformational, with its higher resolution and higher precision. And unlike earlier instruments it can exploit the VLT’s full collecting power—it can be used with all four of the VLT Unit Telescopes at the same time to simulate a 16-metre . ESPRESSO will be unsurpassed for at least a decade—now I am just impatient to find our first rocky planet!”

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