NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have recently been constructing a team of astronomers as part of a project to construct a powerful new exoplanet-hunting tool. The selection process involved a national competition, with the team chosen to be led by Penn State University assistant professor Suvrath Mahadevan. The next three years will now be spent developing and constructing the $10 million instrument, named NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy or NEID for short. NEID, once completed, will then be installed atop the WIYN observatory located at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.
NEID will be the first piece of equipment that will allow astronomers to search for exoplanets from the Earth instead of an orbital telescope. The instrument works by detecting Earth-like planets that orbit stars by measuring the ‘wobble’ of a star, which is often indicative of an orbiting planet and the size of the ‘wobble’ making it possible to determine how big the planet may be. Once these potential exoplanets are discovered, powerful space telescopes can then be committed to the task of searching for these planets in more detail.
The goal of NEID is to assist in finding proof of life on other worlds, which is a discovery that has so far eluded us, should it exist. Whether NEID will help us find the aliens that so many of us hope to find is unknown, but should life exist out there, tools like this make it all the more reasonable that we discover it.