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A new planet hunter awakens: NIRPS instrument sees first light – News | Institute for Research on Exoplanets



The Near InfraRed Planet Searcher (NIRPS) instrument, developed in part at the Université de Montréal and the Université Laval, has successfully performed its first observations. Mounted on ESO’s 3.6-m telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, NIRPS’s mission is to search for new exoplanets around stars in the solar neighbourhood.

This photograph shows the NIRPS instrument and its adaptive optics system, which is installed at ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope. The light collected from the telescope is aimed through a series of mirrors before being injected into an optical fibre. Thanks to this adaptive-optics system, disturbances in the Earth’s atmosphere can be corrected for, allowing for sharper observations. Credit: N. Blind (Observatoire de Genève)/NIRPS consortium/ESO.

“NIRPS has been a long time in the making, and I’m thrilled with how this mission has come together!” says René Doyon, Director of the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic and Institute for Research on Exoplanets, Université de Montréal, and co-Principal Investigator of NIRPS. “This incredible infrared instrument will help us find the closest habitable worlds to our own Solar System.”

The instrument will focus its search on rocky worlds, which are key targets for understanding how planets form and evolve, and are the most likely planets where life may develop. NIRPS will search for these rocky exoplanets around small, cool red dwarf stars — the most common type of stars in our Milky Way galaxy, which have masses from about two to ten times smaller than our Sun.

NIRPS will search for exoplanets using the radial velocity method. As a planet orbits a star, its gravitational attraction causes the star to “wobble” slightly, causing its light to be redshifted or blueshifted as it moves away from or towards Earth. By measuring the subtle changes in the light from the star, NIRPS will help astronomers measure the mass of the planet as well as other properties.

NIRPS will search for these spectral wobbles using near-infrared light as this is the main range of wavelengths emitted by such small, cool stars. It joins the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in the hunt for new rocky worlds. HARPS, which has been installed on ESO’s 3.6-m telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile since 2003, also uses the radial velocity method, but operates using visible light. Using both instruments simultaneously will provide a more comprehensive analysis of these rocky worlds.

Another key difference between the two instruments is that NIRPS will rely on a powerful adaptive optics system. Adaptive optics is a technique that corrects for the effects of atmospheric turbulence, which cause stars to twinkle. By using it, NIRPS will more than double its efficiency in both finding and studying exoplanets.

“NIRPS joins a very small number of high-performance near-infrared spectrographs and is expected to be a key player for observations in synergy with space missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and ground-based observatories,” adds François Bouchy, from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and co-Principal Investigator of NIRPS.

Discoveries made with NIRPS and HARPS will be followed up by some of the most powerful observatories in the world, such as ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope in Chile (for which similar instruments are in development). By working together with both space- and ground-based observatories, NIRPS will be able to gather clues on an exoplanet’s composition and even look for signs of life in its atmosphere.

To be able to operate in the infrared, the Near Infrared Planet Searcher (NIRPS) instrument needs to be kept extremely cool, to prevent heat from interfering with the observations. Here we see the cylindrical cryogenic chamber within which the instrument’s optical parts are installed. The cryogenic chamber keeps the components in a vacuum environment and cooled down to a freezing -190 degrees Celsius. Credit: F. Bouchy (Observatoire de Genève)/NIRPS consortium/ESO.

NIRPS was built by an international collaboration led by the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets team at the Université de Montréal in Canada and the Observatoire Astronomique de l’Université de Genève in Switzerland. Much of the mechanical and optical assembly and testing of the instrument was performed over the last few years at Université Laval’s Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers (COPL) laboratories by Prof. Simon Thibault and his team. The National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre contributed to the conception and construction of the spectrograph.

“After two years of integrating and testing the instrument in the lab, it is amazing for the optical engineering team to see NIRPS on the sky.” mentions Prof. Simon Thibault who is affiliated with the COPL and iREx and who overviewed optical integration and test phases at Université Laval.

Here we see the first raw data from the NIRPS instrument, the spectrum of Barnard’s star. Each horizontal line corresponds to a narrow region of light where both the absorption lines from the star and the absorption from the Earth’s atmosphere are visible. The dotted lines correspond to the so-called comb spectrum, a “ruler” that is used as a reference for the horizontal lines, so scientists can know which wavelengths of light they correspond to. Credit: ESO/NIRPS consortium.

Many Canadian members of the NIRPS have been working on site at La Silla for the instrument’s commissioning period and will continue to do so over the next several months to ensure the NIRPS’s scientific operations. The NIRPS science team, which includes several Canadian astronomers, is guaranteed 720 nights on the instrument during its first 5 years of operations due to their important contribution to the project. While the whole team was excited for NIRPS’s first light, it is safe to say that the best is yet to come!

More Information

The institutes involved in the NIRPS consortium are the Université de Montréal, Canada; the Université de Genève, Observatoire Astronomique, Switzerland; the Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Porto, Portugal; the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain; the Université de Grenoble, France; and the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.

The Canadian NIRPS team, led by Université de Montréal/The Institute for Research on Exoplanets/Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic and including Université Laval, the National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre, and the Royal Military College, was awarded funding by the Canadian Fund for Innovation to build the NIRPS instrument.


René Doyon
Professor, NIRPS co-Principal Investigator
Institute for Research on Exoplanets and Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic — Université de Montréal
Tel: +1 514 343 6111 x3204

Frédérique Baron
NIRPS Deputy Project Manager
Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic — Université de Montréal
Tel: +1 514 277 2858

Simon Thibault
Professor, NIRPS optical engineering team
Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers — Université Laval
Tel: +1 418 656 2131 x 412766

Anne-Sophie Poulin-Girard
Research Associate, NIRPS optical engineering team
Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers — Université Laval
Tel: +1 418 656 2131 x 404646

Nathalie Ouellette
Institute for Research on Exoplanets — Université de Montréal
Tel: +1 613 531 1762


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Red Deer-area boy discovers ancient shark's tooth in his yard – Red Deer Advocate



A dinosaur-loving Red Deer-area boy found a 60 million-year-old fossilized shark tooth — right in his own front yard.

Max Maurizio, 7, was exploring gravel near his house on an acreage southeast of Red Deer on Monday, when he spotted something that didn’t look like other rocks. It was sharp at one end and about an inch and a half long.

“He came running into the house saying, ‘I found a tooth! I found a tooth!” recalled his mom, Carly Maurizio.

At first, Max’s parents assumed it came from one of their cats. But Carly carefully examined it and decided, “‘it looks pretty old…”

Intrigued by Max’s discovery, his dad, Claudio Maurizio, emailed a photo of the tooth to the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller.

On Tuesday, an emailed response arrived from the museum. The photo had been passed on to Dr. Don Brinkman, an expert on fossil fish and turtles.

Brinkman believes the fossilized tooth very likely belonged to the genus Scapanorhynchus — a type of extinct ancient shark with an elongated snout, whose closest living relative is the goblin shark.

“That is an interesting find,” stated Brinkman in the email.

Scapanorhynchus reached a length of about three metres and was a fully marine animal, “so it is a little unusual getting it in the Red Deer area. However, I have seen a tooth of this genus from exposures of the Horseshoe Canyon Formation in the Tolman Bridge area,” east of Trochu, wrote Brinkman.

He noted rocks around Red Deer are from the Paskapoo Formation and are about 60 million years old.

From 100 million to 66 million years ago, the Prairies were covered by a warm inland sea. Scientists believe this Western Interior Seaway extended 3,000 km, from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, was 1,000 km wide and 700 metres deep.

The ancient water body contained a wide array of life, including sharks, bony fish, marine reptiles, birds, snails, ammonites and other mollusks.

The Maurizio family appreciates the information the museum provided on the tooth.

Max is particularly thrilled by his find and wants to become a paleontologist someday, said Carly.

Claudio noted his son is always noticing things that other people don’t. Once, before heading on a nature walk with his grandfather in Ontario, Max predicted he would find a bone — and sure enough, he did discover a small piece of wild animal bone, recalled his father.

Since Max has always been fascinated by dinosaurs, the whole family, including younger brother Meyer, regularly camp at Drumheller and visit the museum at least once a year, said Carly.

“Even when we go on little hikes or regular walks, Max is always looking down at the ground, looking for fossils… It’s quite remarkable that they can be found literally anywhere, even in your own yard,” she added.

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Here’s a close up of the ancient shark’s tooth Max Maurizio, age seven, found in his Red Deer County yard. (Contributed photo).

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This solar storm strike on Earth triggered a Mysterious phenomenon called ‘STEVE’ – HT Tech



On August 7 and 8, an unexpected solar storm event on Earth displayed a mysterious and rare sky phenomenon called STEVE or Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. What is it and how can it affect us? Find out.

We have always associated solar storms with aurora displays, damage to man-made satellites, radio blackouts and GPS disruptions, but it turns out that solar storms can trigger more mysterious phenomenons than that. The August 7 and 8 solar storm, which came as a surprise, caused a strange space phenomenon that left even the scientists puzzled. Many reported seeing a bright stream of light across the sky which was not like any aurora even seen. The question that arises now is what was that stunning light and can it affect us somehow?

The event was first reported by which noted on its website, “During yesterday’s surprise geomagnetic storm, hot ribbons of plasma flowed through Earth’s magnetosphere. The name of this phenomenon is ‘STEVE’ — short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. It was also sighted in Montana and Pennsylvania”.

The mysterious phenomenon to be born out of a solar storm is called STEVE

STEVE was seen in many locations in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere and reportedly lasted about 40 minutes to an hour. While not much is known about these purple streams of light, we do know some facts about it.

STEVE is a very recent discovery. It was first observed in 2017 by citizen scientists and aurora hunters in northern Canada, according to Live Science. The purple glow is formed due to excessively hot (more than 3000 degrees Celsius) gas ribbons that move through the magnetosphere of the Earth. These gas ribbons typically move much faster than the air surrounding it and when it comes in contact with the radiation of solar storms, it gives out a band of glowing color. These are different from auroras because they are not caused by solar radiations colliding with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen through a process called refraction.

While this is still a superficial understanding of the chemical and physical activities that are taking place to cause this strange phenomenon, it does make for a stunning view across the sky. As for whether it can affect us, so far no evidence shows that these light displays are in any way harmful for us or the planet.

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Meteor Showers Taking Place Thursday and Friday Night –



A meteor shower you won’t want to miss.

Gary Boyle, The Backyard Astronomer, tells us we are currently passing through the dusty debris of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

It last appeared in 1992, and will return again in 2125.

He said the shower is lasting all night long, but 2 a.m. would be the time to see the most meteor.

The Backyard Astronomer suggested keeping an eye out for other things in the sky, as well.

Boyle added the next large shower will be in mid-December, but this one might be a little warmer to sit outside and watch.

Written by Ashley Taylor

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