Exo-planet Search at CalTech
Minerva will be an array of PlaneWave CDK700 telescopes outfitted for both photometry and high-resolution spectroscopy. It will be the first U.S. observatory dedicated to exoplanetary science capable of both precise radial velocimetry and transit studies. The multi-telescope concept will be implemented to either observe separate targets or a single target with a larger effective aperture. The flexibility of the observatory will maximize scientific potential and also provide ample opportunities for education and public outreach. The design and implementation of Minerva will be carried out by postdoctoral and student researchers at Caltech.
The primary science goal of Minerva is to discover Earth-like planets in close-in (less than 50-day) orbits around nearby stars, and super-Earths (3-15 times the mass of Earth) in the habitable zones of the closest Sun-like stars. The secondary goal will be to look for transits (eclipses) of known and newly-discovered extrasolar planets, which provide information about the radii and interior structures of the planets. This second goal uses the proven method used by the Kepler Mission, and the unique design of the Minerva observatory allows us to pursue both goals simultaneously.
In May 2015 all five CDK700 were delivered and installed at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory at Mount Hopkins Arizona. The array of small-aperture robotic telescopes outfitted with both photometry and high-resolution spectroscopes will be operated by professors, research associates, postdocs, and students at all levels at Harvard, University of Montana, Penn State, University of New South Wales, Caltech, UPenn, and University of Missouri.