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HARPS-N Project Press Release

Harps-N conquers northern skies
HARPS-N Project Press Release

TNG telescope at Roque de los Muchachos, Canary Islands - Credit: INAF-TNG

Hunt for planets outside our solar system is entering a new and promising phase. HARPS, the most performant ground-based instrument dedicated to exoplanets hunting, will soon have a northern twin. At the end of past December, an international agreement has been signed to officially launch the project HARPS-N. Harps-N will be installed on TNG (Telescopio Nazionale Galileo), the 3.6 meters INAF telescope hosted by the Roque de Los Muchachos observatory, in the Canary Islands.

We have managed to set up – says Francesco Pepe, of the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Geneva and  HARPS-N Principal Investigator –  an enthusiastic collaboration among various institutes to build a northern copy of HARPS. We all expect HARPS-N@TNG to be as successful as its southern 'brother'”.

“I’m really pleased with this agreement – says Tommaso Maccacaro, President of the National Institute for Astrophysics INAF – because it will allow the Italian astronomical community to access this important and efficient instrument in the exoplanets research field. Furthermore – continues President Maccacaro – INAF, with TNG, is going to play a stronger role in such an important field of research”.

The HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument is a precision spectrograph designed to detect and characterize extrasolar planets similar to Earth, both in mass and structure, and for studies of asteroseismology. The first HARPS, installed and operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on its 3.6 meter telescope at La Silla, in the Andes of Chile, is already responsible for about a hundred of new exoplanets, among which the lightest ever discovered. Actually, thanks to its location above the equator, HARPS-N will benefit of better observing conditions for that portion of sky which hosts the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. As regards exoplanets, this will represent a very important feature: KEPLER, NASA's space probe launched in March 2009 to look for earth-like planets, has detected more than a thousand of potential candidates located precisely within the Cygnus constellation region. In order to determine the mass, mean density and composition of these planets, astronomers need to record the small perturbations in the motion of stars due to gravitational effects produced by celestial bodies – planets, in this case - orbiting around them. This requires to carry out long and repeated high-precision velocity measurements from Earth-based telescopes. HARPS-N, meeting all these requirements, is thus likely to become KEPLER’s best partner in discovering new lands outside the solar system.

 Unique capabilities of KEPLER and HARPS-N – adds the Co P.I. Dave Latham, who represents the US partners (Smithsonian Astrophsyical Observatory, Harvard College Observatory, and Harvard University Origins of Life Initiative) – will finally provide us with a new understanding of the nature of extra-solar planets”.

HARPS is able to detect movements at velocities of just a metre per second — the speed of a person walking — in a star hundreds of light-years away. This has allowed planets only a few times more massive than the Earth to be discovered” says Professor Andrew Cameron of the University of St Andrews, who leads the UK contribution to the project.

The Harps-N project is carried out by an international consortium lead by the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Geneva and involving the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory , the Harvard College Observatory and the and Harvard University Origins of Life Initiative in the United States, the Universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and the Queens University of Belfast in the UK. The project partners are granted 80 observing nights per year to use HARPS-N coupled to the TNG. The instrument is currently under construction at the Geneva Observatory. Full operating status is scheduled for April 1st, 2012.


1) HARPS (South) is the High-Accuracy Radial-velocity Planet Searcher of ESO, the European Southern Observatory. It is currently operated at ESO's 3.6-m telescope at the La Silla-Paranal Observatory, Chile. HARPS belongs to the most successful planet-hunting instruments and holds the world-record in terms of precision in measuring stellar velocities. We refer to ESO's web page for more details:

2) The star, around which an extra-solar planet is orbiting, is pulled and pushed by the planet-star gravitational interaction on an small circular or elliptical orbit. The stellar velocity, as seen from the Earth, is therefore varying with time. HARPS is able to detect very tiny velocity changes of the star by means of the Doppler effect, which makes the stellar 'color' change when its velocity changes. HARPS is so price that it can measure velocity changes of a star as low as a those of walking person.


Dr. Francesco Pepe (Principal Investigator), University of Geneva, +41 (0)22 379 23 96,

Prof. Tommaso Maccacaro (INAF Director), Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica INAF, +39 06 35 53 33 10,

Prof. Stéphane Udry (Swiss Co-PI), University of Geneva, +41 (0)22 379 24 67,

Prof. Dave Latham (US Co-PI), Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, +1 (617) 495 72 15,

Prof. Andrew Collier-Cameron (UK Co-PI), University of St. Andrews, +44 (0)1334 46 31 47,

Dr. Emilio Molinari (I Co-PI), INAF-TNG, +34 922 43 36 71,


Sunset at TNG


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