Automated Planet Finder

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The Automated Planet Finder dome. In the background is the dome housing the Carnegie Double Astrograph.

The Automated Planet Finder Telescope (APF) is a fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA. It is designed to search for extrasolar planets in the range of five to twenty times the mass of the Earth. The instrument will examine ~10 stars per night. Over a decade, the telescope will study 1,000 nearby stars for planets.[1] It has an estimated cost of $10 million.[2] The total cost-to- completion of the APF project was $12.37 million. [3]

The telescope uses high-precision radial velocity measurements to measure the gravitational reflex motion of nearby stars caused by the orbiting of planets. The design goal is to detect stellar motions as small as one meter per second, comparable to a slow walking speed. The main targets will be stars within about 100 light years of the Earth.

First light was originally scheduled for 2006, but delays in the construction of the major components of the telescope pushed this back to mid-2009.[4] As of July 2013, the telescope is nearing the end of commissioning, and regular operations are anticipated in fall 2013, advancing to fully robotic operations by the end of 2013. It was effectively the case on January 1st, 2014.[5]

Early tests show that the performance of the Ken and Gloria Levy Doppler Spectrometer is meeting the design goals. The spectrometer has high throughput and is meeting the design sensitivity of (1.0 m/s),[6] similar to the radial velocity precision of HARPS and HIRES.


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Coordinates: 37°20′33″N 121°38′17″W / 37.3425407°N 121.6381903°W / 37.3425407; -121.6381903