Astroboffins order most advanced spectrograph ever to sniff out alien life

ANDES, in the Andes, is predicted to find the first Population III mega-star

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) this week signed a deal with a group of scientific institutions to build a spectrograph that can scan space for the chemical signatures of alien life.

The ArmazoNes high Dispersion Echelle Spectrograph (ANDES) will be mounted onto the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ETL) in the southern Atacama Desert in Chile, not far from the LSST Camera. The instrument will be built by scientific bodies across 13 different countries including Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics, which leads the group and signed the deal with ESO on Wednesday.


ANDES gets the green light - Click to enlarge

“ANDES is an instrument with an enormous potential for groundbreaking scientific discoveries, which can deeply affect our perception of the universe far beyond the small community of scientists,” said Marconi Céline Péroux, the project scientist of the ESO ANDES team.

He opined that the instrument was capable of tasks ranging from “potentially detecting signatures of life in other worlds and identifying the very first generation of stars, to studying the variations in the fundamental constants of physics.”

Of particular interest is the possibility that it could reveal alien life by analyzing the chemical composition of other planets' atmospheres. The detection of phosphine is seen as one possible indicators for alien life and traces were apparently spotted on Venus in 2020. Sadly, or perhaps luckily, the discovery turned out to be a mistake.

Additionally, there is a high likelihood that ANDES will be able to detect some of the earliest stars in the history of the universe, called Population III stars. These have never been directly observed and ESO said it was "likely" that ANDES could be the first to spot one of these ultra-massive suns.

There does not appear to be any firm timeline for when ANDES will be up and running. The much-delayed ELT is supposed to be operational in 2028, but construction is already three years behind schedule. ®

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