Project 1640, a new instrument for the Hale Telescope has arrived. With this new instrument astronomers hope to actually photograph exoplanets--planets that orbit other stars.
The instrument was built by the American Museum of Natural History and the Institute of Astronomy at University of Cambridge. It has only just arrived at Palomar. Today's big event was to make sure that it would properly attach to the telescope and its adaptive optics system. Over the next week and a half the instrument will get fine tuned in preparation for first light.
The new instrument can be seen at left on its cart prior to its fitting test earlier today.
Once it is up and running it will use adaptive optics to correct for distortions in the atmosphere and then a coronagraph which will shield the bright light of a star allowing for the direct photography of an exoplanet. Lots more information is at the Project 1640 link above, but it is certainly worth the time to visit http://lyot.org/.
Stay tuned for updates after the instrument gets some telescope time.