Planet-hunting Belgian-Chilean Trappist telescope now operational, takes first images

Friday, June 11, 2010

A relatively small (60 cm) but crucial telescope has just gone into operation - it's called Trappist and is Belgian but located in Chile and controlled automatically from the other side of the planet. What makes this telescope interesting is that it is devoted entirely to two things: 1) Detecting and characterizing extrasolar planets, and 2) studying comets. The third image here (and a few others here and there) on the telescope's site shows its size compared to that of a human.

For first light you always want to show off a bit, of course, and thus they have provided this image of the Tarantula Nebula:

Besides the excitement from the added ability to discover exoplanets, the other lesson to take away from an observatory like this is that pretty much any country is able to contribute to our overall knowledge of other planets. Compare this to the difficulty of simply sending up a rocket, as Korea's Naro rocket failed again yesterday in spite of it being the second attempt, made with Russian cooperation and the fact that Korea is one of the world's largest economies.

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