Observatory in Spain discovers Earth-like planets

More than 2,000 meters up a little-explored mountain range in the southern Spanish province of Almeria stands the largest telescope in mainland Europe.

Housed inside the Calar Alto Observatory, this giant device is helping astronomers discover new planets and even search for life beyond Earth.

First opened in 1975 as a German-Spanish collaboration, the facility sits in a stunning, wild spot at the top of the Sierra de Los Filabres where mountain goats, stags and wild boar roam freely among the futuristic white domes of the observatory buildings.

The site is so picturesque — and the climb to reach it so arduous — that it has hosted stage finishes of the Vuelta a Espana cycling race.

The largest of the cupolas, which from certain angles resembles R2-D2 from Star Wars, is home to the ‘3.5 meter telescope’.

“This telescope has a diameter of 3.5 meters which is the main measurement of a telescope because, contrary to popular opinion, telescopes aren’t lenses but are mirrors, mirrors which help us to collect light coming from the stars. It’s a bit like how the pupils of our own eyes get bigger or smaller depending how much light there is or how dim something is that we want to see. If instead of 6 or 7 millimeters, we could open our pupils 3.5 meters, as is the case with this telescope, we’d be able to collect far more light from very dim objects or things which are dim because they area very long way away,” explains Calar Alto’s Head of Astronomy Santos Pedraz.

However crucial technically, that 3.5-meter measurement fails to capture the staggering scale of the entire device as it cranks noisily into position around the 40-meter tall dome of the observatory building.

The telescope measures an incredible 13 meters in length and is raised, lowered, rotated and spun by vast machinery, weighing 270 tonnes. And then there’s the dome itself which also spins and opens so that the telescope can line itself up with any part of the night sky.

The effort required to maneuver this enormous device into position and the three others found at Calar Alto has been worth it: the team has so far discovered around 100 minor planets. And recent discoveries sound particularly exciting.

“Last week we made our latest discovery which is that we’ve found around a star called Teegarden, which is 12.5 light years away, two planets which are similar in size and make-up to Earth,” says Pedraz.

“Very interestingly, they’re at the right distance from the star to have the right temperature to contain water which is one of the first requirements in the search for planets in which there might be life,” he adds.

By night, it becomes clear to visitors why this mountaintop site was chosen for the observatory: even with the naked eye, the low levels of light pollution and clear skies produce a stunning spectacle of stars.

Gazing up at the infinite beauty of the night sky above the Calar Alto Observatory, most visitors would conclude that their continuing mission to understand our universe is a worthwhile one, even if, as Pedraz admits, the chances of them actually finding life on the newly-discovered planets are small.

(Source: AP)

Source Article from http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2019/07/19/601328/Spain-observatory-discover-Earth-like-planets

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