The CARMENES project, carried out by a consortium of eleven German and Spanish partner institutions, including the IEEC through the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE, CSIC), has been designed to look for Earth-like planets in the habitability area, which is the region around a star where conditions allow the presence of liquid water. CARMENES, installed at the Calar Alto Observatory (MPG/CSIC), in Almeria, started its official observation activity on January 1st 2016.

Image: The 3.5m telescope on Calar Alto in Southern Spain. CARMENES is installed at this telescope, and it started searching for Earth-like planets on January 1st 2016. Credit: Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie

CARMENES is searching for planets orbiting so-called M dwarfs. These stars are smaller than our Sun and offer conditions for the existence of liquid water in close orbits. That requires to observe both the visible and the infrared light. This is the strength of CARMENES: no other instrument can do this. This allows avoiding false positives in planet detection, a common problem till now as the signals from the stellar activity and other stellar physical mechanisms might be confused with the existence of planets. CARMENES can to confirm its findings without further verification.

The success of CARMENES is already apparent. The CARMENES consortium has announced dozens of new planets, some of them orbiting very nearby stars and therefore holding high value. In addition, CARMENES is producing new results in the area of the characterization of exoplanetary atmospheres. CARMENES uses its high-resolution capabilities and red and near-infrared coverage to probe the presence of molecules and atomic species in different layers of the atmospheres of hot planets.
The IEEC plays an essential role in CARMENES: it is responsible for the scientific preparation and exploitation. The IEEC is also responsible for very important technological tasks in the CARMENES instrument, such as building the Instrument Control System (ICS), the "brain" of CARMENES. The institute has also built the observation scheduler, a complex piece of software that takes into account a great number of variables (object properties, prioritization, environment information) to choose the optimum star to be observed at each time.

Image: Part of the IEEC team at Calar Alto. Credit: IEEC CARMENES Team.
More information:

Generalitat de CatalunyaUniversitat de BarcelonaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaUniversitat Politècnica de CatalunyaConsejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasCentres de Recerca de Catalunya