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In the Atacama desert, Chile, twelve small aperture telescopes are observing the southern sky since 2016. Combining the optimal weather conditions of the observing site with the high sensitivity CCD detector and very precise alignment of the mounts, the survey is able to detect super-Earth- and Neptune-sized planets around nearby stars. In 2018 the first planets discovered by NGTS have been published, including a hot Neptune, orbiting a K-dwarf star. Within our survey we measure the brightness of hundreds of thousands of stars over several months. This data is not only interesting for the search for transiting exoplanets but is also a treasure in regards to stellar variability.
Observations of thousands of stars over hundreds of nights with such high photometric precision and short cadence is unprecedented. For example the data has been used to look for stellar flares and allows insights into the structure of flares on short timescales. First data in form of light curves of two hundred thousand stars, are now publicly available over the archive of the European Southern Observatories (ESO).
Andor’s iKon CCD series is in high demand especially within the exoplanet community, which perform exoplanet searches and follow-up characterization studies. This is due to, for example, the cameras ideal suitability to operate in remote observing locations (e.g., no vacuum repumping necessary, in-field replaceable shutter) and the availability of a sensor option with extended NIR sensitivity. The latter is important especially for observations of cool stars. The Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), a dedicated search for exoplanets, is a great example for an on-going observational astronomy project involving Andor iKon-L CCD cameras. NGTS is comprised of 12 fully robotic 20cm telescopes, each equipped with custom-designed iKon-L CCDs providing exoplanet observations in the 600-900 nm wavelength band. At Andor, we are proud that the capabilities and characteristics of the iKon CCD series can contribute to the discovery of planets with sizes smaller than Neptune, which is a crucial step towards finding a possible Earth-twin in the future.
Date: June 2019
Author: Drs. Philipp Eigmüller and Colin Coates