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Press Release #1: First Light for Planet Hunter ExTrA at La Silla (2018, january 24th)


A new national facility at ESO’s La Silla Observatory has successfully made its first observations. The ExTrA telescopes will search for and study Earthsized planets orbiting nearby red dwarf stars. ExTrA’s novel design allows for much improved sensitivity compared to previous searches. Astronomers now have a powerful new tool to help in the search for potentially habitable worlds.

Photo of ExTrA by night. - Credit: ESO

The newest addition to ESO’s La Silla observatory (http://eso.org/lasilla) in northern Chile, Exoplanets in Transits and their Atmospheres (ExTrA), has made its first successful observations. ExTrA (http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/lasilla/extra/) is designed to search for planets around nearby red dwarf stars and study their properties. ExTrA is a French project funded by the European Research Council (https://erc.europa.eu/) and the French Agence National de la Recherche (http://www.agence-nationale-recherche.fr/). The telescopes will be operated remotely from Grenoble, France.

To detect and study exoplanets, ExTrA uses three 0.6-metre telescopes [1]. They regularly monitor the amount of light received from many red dwarf stars and look for a slight dip in brightness that could be caused by a planet passing — transiting — across a star’s disc and obscuring some of its light. “La Silla was selected as the home of the telescopes because of the site’s excellent atmospheric conditions,” explains the project’s lead researcher, Xavier Bonfils. “The kind of light we are observing — near-infrared — is very easily absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, so we required the driest and darkest conditions possible. La Silla is a perfect match to our specifications.”
br/> The transit method involves comparing the brightness of the star under study with other reference stars to spot tiny changes. However, from the ground it is difficult to make sufficiently precise measurements this way to detect small, Earth-sized planets [2]. By using a novel approach that also incorporates information about the brightness of the stars in many different colours, however, ExTrA overcomes some of these limitations.
br/> The three ExTra telescopes collect light from the target star and four comparison stars and that light is then fed through optical fibres into a multi-object spectrograph. This innovative approach of adding spectroscopic information to traditional photometry helps to mitigate the disruptive effect of Earth’s atmosphere, as well as effects introduced by instruments and detectors — increasing the precision achievable.
br/> Because a transiting planet will block a greater proportion of the light from a smaller star, ExTrA will focus on targeting nearby examples of a specific kind of small, bright star known as M dwarfs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_classification#Class_M), which are common in the Milky Way. Such stars are expected to host many Earth-sized planets, making them prime targets for astronomers looking to discover and study distant worlds that could be amenable to life. The nearest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri, is an M dwarf and has been found (https://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1629/) to have an orbiting Earth-mass planet. Finding these previously undetectable Earth-like worlds is only one of two key objectives for ExTrA. The telescope will also study the planets it finds in some detail, assessing their properties and deducing their composition to determine how similar to Earth they could be.
br/> “With ExTrA, we can also address some fundamental questions about planets in our galaxy. We hope to explore how common these planets are, the behaviour of multi-planet systems, and the sorts of environments that lead to their formation,” adds team member Jose-Manuel Almenara.
br/> Bonfils is excited for the future: “With the next generation of telescopes, such as ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, we may be able to study the atmospheres of exoplanets found by ExTra to try to assess the viability of these worlds to support life as we know it. The study of exoplanets is bringing what was once science fiction into the world of science fact.”

Press release of ESO: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1803/

First light and happy new year! (2018, january 1st)


At the end of last year, the project pass an important milstone. The first telescope received its robotic fiber positioner at the focal plan. The science fibers and positionning fiber go to the main building where the spectrograph is installed. The installation of control command is in progress.
Some operations are need to optimize the precision of EXTRA but the first light was done!! Is a important milestone for the beginning of the new year !! Happy new year ExTrA teams !!!

Coming soon: the first press release for ExTrA project !!

All télescopes in the dômes (2017, september 21th)


An importante step, was done today. The 3 ExTrA's tekescope were installed on the site at La Silla.
The work continue to complete the observatory.

Boxes are at the observatory (2017, september 18th)


All the boxes arrived in Chile.
During the next month, all equipment will be installed. Namely three telescopes in the 3 domes, the spectrometer, as well as a first fiber optic positioning robots and scientific fibers.
This is an important step for the project which despite the difficulties, continues to progress. The first light is expected during october month.

Caisses d'EXTRA sur site

All hardware shipped to Chile !! (2017, July 31th)


The EXTRA project continue its road to Chile. At the end of July, all the major parts of this instrument (2 last telescopes, dome's motors, spectrometer, first FPU, and computers) take the ship to the Chile. This step, can allow to finish to build the observatory in La Silla. At the end of October the first light with the FPU and the spectrometer will be possible.

Image envois des caisses EXTRA

Image envois des caisses EXTRA

ESO adds a web site for ExTrA (2017, May 20th)


After the installation of the first telescope and cabling integration, ESO create a new web page on ESO's website dedicated to ExTrA project.
ExTrA is now a new part of the "La Silla" Skyline.

Cabling and software (2017, April 5th)


During the 4th mission, some activities of cabling and software were done.
The site have now the electricty power and network. It's an important step for the project to do the operations in remote operation. The outdoor camera and weather station works and and it's possible to monitor from Grenoble.
The others activites at IPAG are in progress: fibers, spectrometer, focal plan unit and software.

This image has been obtained with the guiding camera. It is composed with two pictures to revelate the details planet and satellites.

First light (2017, Jan 30th)


During the 3trd mission, the first light has been obtained with the first telescop of ExTrA project. After collimation, polar alignment then first pointing model and lots of working, the first image has been obtained. For the that we turn the big eye to Jupiter, the giant planet of our solar system. The road ahead is still long until the first detection of transit planet but it is a first step.

Image de Jupiter - First light

This image has been obtained with the guiding camera. It is composed with two pictures to revelate the details planet and satellites.

First telescop installed (2016, Nov 22th)


La Silla observatory count a new telescope in the profile shape. The first of three telescopes of ExTrA project have been installed in the first dome. With a crane and wind, it took his place and wait the first light in the middle of january. Stay online to see the first light...

Le nouveau télescope de La Silla

General news (2016, Oct 21th)


Lots of parts of the project have finished some steps:

  • Telescopes: All three telescopes are at IPAG. The first one have been tested and will be sent to Chile the next week for the first integration on site mid november. The number 2 is testing. Lots of corrections in the software have been done with the software engineers of IPAG and ASA.
  • Science camera came back from the manufacturer after some problems and make tuning gain. Some tests have been done to know the linearity and noise.
  • Spectrometer has been built with lenses and made some thermal tests. The image quality tests have been done with science camera too.
  • Lots of tests have been done with the translation stage of the FPU to put fiber at the good position in the focal plan. Lot of problem were present and we are working with Attocube to fix them.
  • Fibers of the focal plan have been tested to verify the quality of product. Only science fibers are built now.
  • The second commissioning will be done in the second half part of november. Infrasctructure and installation of the first telescope are programmed.

2nd telescope ASA600RC at IPAG (2016, Sept 5th)


A news box has arrived at IPAG. The second telescop will be tested in few weeks. The thirth will come very soon.

A new profile for La Silla Observatory (2016, July 8th)


Since the beginning of july, La silla Observatory has a new profile with the add of three domes for EXTRA Project. Despite the bad weather condition, Alain Thibaut et Xavier have built the 3 domes in one week. It is a major step for the project. The next step will be the installation of the télescopes and the scientifique intrument in developpement at IPAG.

EXTRA site at La Silla Observatory after the first mission

First telescope ASA600RC at IPAG (2016, Jun 15th)


After lot of months, the first telescope is at the laboratory. We can start some tests and integrations. It's an important step for the project.

First telescope at IPAG
First telescope on the mount

Domes are at La Silla Observatory (2016, Jun 13th)


After 45 days of travel (by boat), the parts of the domes at La Silla Observatory. Three trucks picked them to the Serrena to the observatory. They will be mounted at the end of June by the project engineers. More news as soon as possible.

Picture of domes at La Silla Picture of domes at La Silla Picture of domes at La Silla Picture of domes at La Silla

"Casetas" is coming soon (2016, May 27th)


The control room will be installed the 21th june 2016 in the masonry pods. This "casetas" will host the spectrometer with scientific camera, the workstation, and a control room for the first step of this project.

Drawing of control room

Earthworks and masonry finished at La Silla (2016, May 26th)


The EXTRA's site is ready to host the first element of EXTRA project. The masonry of three domes is finished, the electric sheaths are in place.
Next step: control room and end of june: instalation of dome ! Stay connected :)

Photo of masonry for domes

Mount 2 and 3 at IPAG (2016, Apr 11th)


After lot of months, the last mounts of telescope for the project are send by manufacturer ASA.

3 domes close to the start (2016, Apr 07th)


After a series of tests, the domes that protect the telescopes were prepared for shipment by boat to Chile. They will be mounted on masonry late June.

photo des dômes

Earthworks and masonry begins 6 april on ExTrA site at La Silla ! (2016, Apr 07th)


After a call for tender at begining of the year, the construction of the ExTrA observatory (Eartworks and masonry) will begin of 11th april at La Silla Observatory. It's an important step for the project. The Domes will be installed end of june. photo des dômes
photo des dômes

First ASA mount at IPAG! (2015, Dec 20th)


The first ASA DDM160 mount is at IPAG! It is a first step to start the "control command" of this sub-system. The weight of the mount is about 190kg and the Pier 254 kg.

Photo de monture DDM160

Scientific camera is at IPAG! (2015, Nov 17th)


After a call for tender, we selected Roper Scientific France (provider of Princeton Instruments) to provided us the infrared scientific camera for the project. The model is a NIRvana-LN . The caracterisation of the detector is in progress. The detector is an InGaAs infrared detector with 640 x 512 px. The pixel size is 20µm. This camera will be located near the contrôl room where the fibers of the three telescopes arrive. .

Photo de laa caméra NIRvana_LN

First dome is at IPAG! (2015, May 4th)


The first dome to protect the telescope is at IPAG. It is an important step in the project. The team can learn the build procedure, and test the control command software. .

Photo du dome dans le hall d'intégration de l'IPAG

AstroSystem Austria selected to provide the telescopes and their mounts! (2014, december 10th)


After a call for tender , ASA has been selected to provide us 3 telescopes and their mounts. The diameter is 60 cm. The mounts uses direct drive technology. See more on facility section.

ESO STC recommends ExTrA for Paranal, the world best astronomical observatory (2014, June 21st)


As an infrared instrument dedicated to photometric time-series, ExTrA requires the driest and darkest site, with the greatest number of consecutive clear nights. We carefully compared various astronomical sites and elected Paranal Observatory as the best location for ExTrA. We thus submitted our proposal to ESO and its Science & Technical Committee is now recommending the project for Paranal. After this milestone, we are now able to discuss the technical details of an implementation and draft a formal agreement.

View of extra obsrevatory on Paranal observatory site

ExTrA selected by ERC (2013, June 10th)