Cambridge, MA - The search for planets outside our solar system continues to heat up. NASA's Kepler spacecraft has located more than 1,200 planetary candidates, however confirming them remains a challenge. In some circumstances, an eclipsing binary star can mimic the shallow dimming due to a planet crossing in front of its star. Ground-based measurements are needed to verify an orbiting world by spotting the gravitational wobbles it induces in its host star, in a method known as radial velocity.
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) continues to be a major player in the planet-hunting realm. CfA is part of an international collaboration building a new instrument called HARPS-North. (HARPS stands for High-Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher.) This precision spectrograph is designed to detect the tiny radial-velocity signal induced by planets as small as Earth, if they orbit close to their star. It will complement Kepler by helping to confirm and characterize Kepler's planetary candidates.