HARPS-N inauguration at TNG

On April 23, 2012 HARPS-N was inaugurated at the Italian 3.6 meter Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG). HARPS-N (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher - North) is a high resolution spectrograph designed to detect and study extra solar planets (exoplanets). It is an almost exact twin of HARPS instrument already installed at the European Southern Observatory's 3.6m telescope in La Silla, Chile. One of the primary science goals of HARPS-N will be the confirmation and further study of the extrasolar planet candidates found by NASA's Kepler satellite. Other research fields will include search and characterization of Solar-like stars, asteroseismology, chemical abundances.

To accomplish its goals, HARPS-N needs an extreme mechanical and thermal stability, which is guaranteed by a very accurate control of the environmental conditions in its enclosure. In particular the temperature variations will be as small as 0.001°C. Astronomers expect that HARPS-N will be the most precise planet hunter in the Northern Hemisphere, able to report stellar movements down to 1 meter per second or less. This will allow the detection of planets only few times more massive than Earth.

HARPS-N project is a consortium of the Observatory of Geneva University (Switzerland), INAF-TNG (Italy), CfA and Harvard University (USA), ATC Edinburgh, Queens University and University of St. Andrews (UK). The consortium established a science team which will manage the scientific use of the instrument during the GTO time.

The installation of HARPS-N was carried out by the TNG staff, colleagues from Switzerland and UK in March, followed by the instrument's first light, confirming the successful installation and good state of all subsystems. In the month of April the further commissioning was carried out. The instrument will be ready for the first planet hunting season this summer.

On April 22, the day before the inauguration, HARPS-N science team meeting was held in FGG offices. The presence of all the partner countries has been particularly important in this day, when the status of the instrument was presented and the first observing strategies were discussed. A good fish lunch on the black sand beach of la Palma helped a lot in insuring a collaborative atmosphere.

The inauguration ceremony was done inside the dome of TNG in the presence of the telescope staff, science team members, guests from other telescopes of the observatory and local and international press. Speeches by the TNG director Emilio Molinari, HARPS-N PI Francesco Pepe and INAF and FGG president Giovanni Bignami (via Skype) were delivered. The speakers emphasized the importance of the instrument in the exoplanet research field in particular and its high impact on the astronomy in general. An important highlight during the speeches was the appreciation of the high efficiency of the TNG technical, IT and scientific staff during the installation and commissioning of the instrument. Also, the speakers praised the impressively short timeline of the HARPS-N project, mentioning the record-fast political decision making, agreement signature and instrument components manufacturing and delivery.

The ceremony was concluded by the symbolic "umbilical cord" (optical fiber) cut by Michel Mayor and David Latham, the godfathers of the project. Then everyone toasted to HARPS-N success with a true veneto Prosecco and posed for a family photo.

After the ceremony a lunch in the observatory Residencia concluded the day, under a luckily sunny sky and with everybody's contentment.

Now, all toward new worlds discovery!!


Science team in FGG meeting room

Italian representative in the science team meeting with a perplexed face during hard discussions

All hands dedication of the day in the Book of Honour of Telescopio Nazionale Galileo

Symbolic fiber cut at the inauguration by Mayor and Latham

Family photo

Enjoying prosecco