The Paranal Observatory, also known as the Southern Astrophysical Observatory, is an observatory built in Antarctica, and specifically designed for observing exoplanets (other planets outside the Solar System.)
The main aims of this observatory are to find out if Earth-sized planets (terrestrial planets) exist. Also to discover the composition and evolution of other planets in our Solar System, and figure out the nature of our Universe. Furthermore, it has been a key participant in various projects dealing with astronomy and space.
In the 1960s, they construct the telescope on the land. Then, they transfer it to a sea-going vessel that made it possible to observe the sky in winter and summer. However, in the 1970s, they relocate it to an ice-capped mountain where it was able to work throughout the year. In 1988, it was moved to the sea again, but only for a few days a year.
The Current Status Of The Paranal Observatory
Today, the observatory consists of four research telescopes, one each on three different observation places throughout the year. The largest telescope is the W.M. Keck Observatory telescope, which is for long-term studies of star formation. During the 1980s, Carl Sagan uses it to examine a large star cluster that had a few planets within it. The Large Binocular Telescope (LBTR) is for short-term observations of stars. And, lastly, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) is primarily for long-term study of stars and exoplanetary systems.
When operating these scientific instruments, the observatory uses devices and equipment to collect data, analyze those data, and transmit it to a ground station or to another observatory. This data is then analyzed by specialized astronomers. It’s thus to learn about the physical properties of a planet or an exoplanet. Also to determine its atmospheric composition, its size, other characteristics, and how about its form.
The Polar-Orbiting Telescopes
Polar-orbiting telescopes are in use to obtain images of exoplanets when they are at different points in their orbit around their parent star. They take images by telescopes on Earth and then sending it back to the polar-orbiting observatory where astronomers can analyze them. They use them as evidence of the existence of an exoplanet in the Solar System. Such as the brightness and color of its stars.
Polar-orbiting telescopes are typical to detecting planets that orbit a star within the habitable zone (which is neither too hot nor too cold for life to exist.) The more distant a planet is from its star, the greater the resolution of its images and data will be. Therefore, the closer and more detailed the images are to be.
A long-term orbiter explores the planet and can provide data during many different times of day and night. They also use it to study the atmosphere, composition, and climate of a planet, to determine its physical properties. An infrared telescope will determine the composition of a planet by looking at its atmosphere.
Some Other Important Equipment Used In The Observatory
A radioisotope thermometer can also determine the composition of a planet by sending radio signals into it. It works by bombarding it with a steady supply of energy and analyzing the temperature of the atmosphere.
A polar orbiter can also observe the atmospheres of planets and exoplanets and study their structure. The images from this instrument help astronomers to find out about the composition and the temperature of a planet’s atmosphere, and the amount of water present.
By taking pictures of exoplanets at all different times of the year, astronomers are able to figure out the planet’s orbit. This information help scientists determine what the planet can have, and how fast it rotates.
A long-term orbiter can also take images of exoplanets by using spectroscopy. Spectroscopy may also determine if there is a magnetic field around a planet.
By observing the way in which light waves are reflecting from the surface of a planet or exoplanet, astronomers can actuate its temperature, composition, and other properties.
Finally, long-term orbiter measures the distance between stars. Eventually, it can help to figure out the distance from a star to the Earth. It can measure the brightness of a star, and help astronomers to determine how much mass it contains. It can decide the movement of stars and actuate the gravity that surrounds it, and thus, conclude the speed of its rotation.