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Exploring exoplanets with the BBC

The Sky at Night is a BBC 4 programme exploring the fascinating world of space and astronomy. In an episode showing at 10pm on the 8th September, presenter Chris Lintott, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Oxford, will delve into the extrasolar Universe to teach us about exoplanets. Exoplanets sit outside of our solar system – they are planets that orbit stars that are not our own sun.

The Sky at Night production team came to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE) to film the episode.

Based at the ROE is STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), where ground-breaking engineering work is being done to build a major component of a state-of-the art instrument, called ERIS that will enable astronomers to image exoplanets.

The team interviewed UK ATC Optical Engineer, Martin Black, about UK ATC’s work on ERIS.

 “ERIS stands for Enhanced Resolution Imager and Spectrograph,” says Martin, “and it is a next generation instrument being built by an international consortium for the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The VLT is one of the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes, based at the Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile. We are very excited that first light at the telescope will be next year - in 2020.”

Martin continues, “The team at UK ATC is working specifically on NIX - a state-of-the-art cryogenic camera system that will take pictures of exoplanets. The NIX camera is about the size of an average piece of airline hold luggage.”

The University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA) is also on the ROE site, where astronomer Dr Beth Biller specialises in exoplanets. The BBC filmed Chris Lintott interviewing Beth about exoplanets. Beth will use ERIS in her research when it’s on the VLT in 2020, and through a Royal Society Research grant has also been closely involved in the design of the NIX camera system for ERIS.

Watch the show:

The Sky at Night, BBC4, Sunday 8th September, 10pm.

Last updated: 04 September 2019

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