A penetrating eye in orbit to detect life on other planets

A penetrating eye in orbit to detect life on other planets

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has signed an agreement with an international consortium led by the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) to design and build ANDES, a high-tech instrument that will be mounted on ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). The Andes will be used to search for signs of life in exoplanets and study the first stars to light up in the universe, but also to test differences in fundamental constants of physics and measure the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

ANDES (ArmazoNes High Dispersion Echelle Spectrograph) is an advanced spectrograph, an instrument that splits light into its component wavelengths so astronomers can determine important properties of astronomical objects, such as their chemical composition. The instrument will have unprecedented performance for observations in visible light and near-infrared, and in combination with the powerful mirror system and adaptive optics that make up the ELT, will allow tremendous progress in the study of the universe.

ANDES will allow detailed investigations into the atmospheres of Earth-like exoplanets, allowing astronomers to analyze their composition and search for traces associated with the presence of life. It will also be able to analyze chemical elements in distant objects in the early universe, making it likely the first instrument capable of detecting the signatures of third-group stars, the first stars ever to form in the universe. In addition, astronomers will be able to use ANDES data to test whether fundamental constants of physics vary over time and space. Its data will also be used to directly measure the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, one of the astrophysical mysteries yet to be solved.

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