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News Picks : New robotic telescope spots its first exoplanets

By: Physics Today
28 March 2014
New Scientist: During its first few months of operation, the Automated Planet Finder (APF), located at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in California, has found two new systems of planets. Since January, when the APF started operating, it has confirmed the existence of four gas giant planets orbiting a star called HD 141399 and another planet orbiting a red dwarf star called GJ 687. Unlike other ground-based telescopes, however, the APF is fully automated: It wakes itself up in the early afternoon, calibrates itself, opens its dome at sunset, and then spends the night observing stars one by one, looking for the telltale wobble that indicates a passing planet. By combining data from the APF and other ground- and space-based telescopes, astronomers hope to find exoplanets, which might support intelligent life, in the habitable zones of nearby stars.

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