McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis, Texas
To gather a very large amount of light, specifically for low-cost spectroscopy, the study of light-matter interactions.
NIST provided a custom-made astrocomb — which precisely measures frequencies, or colors, of light — to ensure the precision of starlight analysis by an instrument at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope called a spectrograph, used to identify Earth-like planets orbiting stars. The project is a collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder and Pennsylvania State University. The comb was supported by the National Science Foundation, Pennsylvania State University Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, NASA and the Heising-Simons Foundation.
The spectrograph and astrocomb’s early results led to the conclusion that a planet candidate proposed to be orbiting Barnard’s star, one of the most studied stars in the night sky, is a false positive.
NIST’s astrocomb was the first in operation on a telescope to analyze near-infrared light, the main type emitted by M dwarf stars, which make up 70% of the stars in the galaxy.
University of Texas at Austin
Pennsylvania State University, Ludwig Maximilians Universität and Georg August Universität