Skip to main content

The Habitable Planet Finder is a new tool to locate Earth-like exoplanets

The Habitable Planet Finder, shown here at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in Texas, is normally covered with a lid that maintains a vacuum seal. The two objects on the far end are the large spectrometer mirrors that direct and format light from M-dwarf stars. The cylinder on the right is the camera, which focuses the light onto the infrared detector, a device that records it as a digital image. Gudmundur Stefansson / Pennsylvania State University

Astronomers have a new tool to help them find habitable planets in our galaxy: the Habitable Planet Finder (HPF), a high-precision spectrograph. The HPF can be used to detect worlds which have some key qualities, like being a rocky planet orbiting an red dwarf. A red dwarf, also known as an M-dwarf, is a type of star that is relatively cool, small, and dim, and is somewhat similar to our Sun (which is classified as a white or yellow dwarf.) Red dwarfs are common in the Milky Way, like the nearby Barnard’s star, making them good hunting grounds for exoplanets.

“About 70 percent of the stars in our galaxy are M-dwarfs like Barnard’s star, but the near-infrared light they emit has made it difficult for astronomers to see their planets with ordinary optical telescopes,” Paul Robertson, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement. “With the HPF, it’s now open season for exoplanet hunting on a greatly expanded selection of stellar targets.”

The HPF measures subtle changes in the color of light given off by stars, which can indicate the influence of an orbiting planet. In particular, it searches for planets with a low mass located within the “habitable zone” of their stars where surface water can exist. The spectrograph has already demonstrated its usefulness by confirming the existence of a super-Earth which is orbiting Barnard’s star during its commissioning, and should be able to detect many more planets similar in size to Earth in the future.

“The project proved to us that the HPF has the capability to detect Earth-mass planets around other M-dwarf stars,” Robertson said in the same statement. “To me, that’s the most exciting thing about this result.”

The research is published in the journal Optica.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more