In the night sky over ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory at Paranal, the Moon shines along with Venus and Jupiter. Image Credit: ESO/Y. BELETSKY.

New Planet-Hunting Tool Installed on the Very Large Telescope

In an era of monumental advancements in space research, the HiRISE instrument emerges as a key player in reshaping exoplanet studies.


Exoplanet studies have truly skyrocketed. With a whopping 5,523 exoplanets confirmed in 4,117 systems, and an additional 9,867 pending confirmation, the focus has shifted from merely detecting to characterizing these celestial bodies. This means a deeper dive into identifying potential signs of life, aka biosignatures.

Major breakthroughs are anticipated, courtesy of upcoming observatories such as NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, the ESA’s PLATO mission, and others.

Ground-Based Facilities: The Game Changers

While new telescopes grab headlines, certain ground-based facilities, both new and old, remain at the forefront of exoplanet research. A standout addition is the High-Resolution Imaging and Spectroscopy of Exoplanets (HiRISE) mounted on the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

Dr. Arthur Vigan, the leading mind behind the study from the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, collaborates with professionals from esteemed institutions worldwide. Their findings, currently under review by the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, highlight the transformative role of HiRISE in exoplanet study.

Direct Imaging: The Future of Exoplanet Study

Exoplanet research is undergoing a revolution, with direct imaging becoming the preferred method. This technique focuses on capturing light reflected from exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces, a stark contrast to earlier indirect methods.


The value of direct imaging, as Dr. Vigan explains, lies in the ability to discern an exoplanet’s atmospheric chemical composition. Using the analogy of trying to image a candle near a lighthouse from 700 km away, Dr. Vigan emphasizes the challenge and the innovation of HiRISE in overcoming it.

HiRISE: A Jewel in VLT’s Crown

Specifically designed for characterizing extrasolar giant planets, HiRISE functions in the infrared H band, enabling measurements of phenomena like water vapor absorption and volcanic activity.

Combining features from other instruments, HiRISE greatly augments the VLT’s imaging prowess. Dr. Vigan elaborates on its unparalleled resolution, allowing for detailed spectral characterizations.

Cost-Effective Advancements in Astronomy

Upgrading existing instruments can be a savvy move. While building new facilities can be costly and controversial, integrating instruments like HiRISE proves efficient both in terms of time and finances.

Highlighting the cost-effectiveness, Dr. Vigan shared that HiRISE’s development costs only a fraction compared to constructing entirely new facilities, like the ELT. This approach also accelerates the research process, with observations via the improved VLT commencing soon.


Moreover, the HiRISE experience sets the stage for upcoming endeavors, offering invaluable insights for future instrument designs, especially on the much-anticipated European ELT.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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