What a nice acronym for a project that will bring us marvelous new worlds to thinker with. This coming fall, astronomers will start a massive search for new planets by observing about 11,000 nearby stars over 6 years. This number dwarfs the roughly 3,000 stars that astronomers have searched to date for the presence of planets. Scientists estimate that the NASA-funded project, called MARVELS (Multi-object Apache Point Observatory Radial Velocity Exoplanet Large-area Survey), will find at least 150 new planets—perhaps many more.
MARVELS will do much more than just catalogue a few hundred more planets. By surveying the Jupiter-like planets around such a large number of stars, MARVELS aims to give astronomers the data they need to test competing theories for how planetary systems form and evolve.
To look at so many stars, MARVELS will use a telescope that can separately image 60 stars at a time, and this number will eventually be increased to 120 stars. The telescope, which will be housed at the Apache Point Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, has a 2.5 meter primary mirror and a wide field of view that covers 7 square degrees of the sky—an area that would appear 35 times larger than the Moon.
The MARVELS approach hinges upon the pattern that whenever a large jupiter-like planet is present, smaller terrestrial planets may also be there. The set of data that MARVELS will discover will definitely help in sorting out which stars are potential targets for further research. Plus, it will be a big boon to verify theories of planetary formation.
And if everything proceeds as planned, it will verify the forecast made on this blog last February that a deluge of exoplanets will be discovered in 2008.
Sloan Digital Sky Survey III
Mission Hopes to Find New Planets by the Dozen