Press Release

WASP Prepares to Search for a Thousand New Planets

By SpaceRef Editor
May 29, 2003
Filed under , ,
WASP Prepares to Search for a Thousand New Planets
extrasolar planet

Construction has now started in La Palma on the first of three new cameras
designed to look for planets outside our own solar system. To date about a
hundred of these planets have been found by teams of scientists from around the
world using various techniques, but the ambitious new WASP project hopes to
over a thousand new planets similar to Jupiter!

WASP, the wide-angle search for planets, will be formed of a network of at
three cameras, which will accurately measure the brightness of a million stars
every minute. Astronomers will look for variations in the brightness of stars,
which can indicate a planet passing in front of the star. The easiest sorts of
planets to see are large Jupiter-sized objects, close to the star they orbit,
known as ‘hot Jupiters’. They also hope to detect variations due to asteroids
passing near stars and giant explosions known as novae or supernovae.

Unusually, much of the equipment being used in WASP is similar to that used by
amateur astronomers, but of research quality and used in a novel way. It is
innovative in its operation, as the system requires little supervision, Don
Pollacco of Queens University Belfast explains: “Each camera in WASP is
to run under robotic control with minimal human interaction.”

Pete Wheatley, University of Leicester adds: “The first camera will generate 30
Gigabytes of data per night (equivalent to roughly 40 CDs!) and the entire
network, once completed, should produce 16,000 Gigabytes a year, giving us a
colossal processing task.”

Planning permission for the work on La Palma was given earlier this month and
clearing of the site started last week. Installation should start early June
2003 and WASP should see first light in the summer of 2003. La Palma is a
premier site for astronomy, in the Canary Islands.

The WASP consortium consists of astronomers from: Queens University Belfast,
Universities of Cambridge, Keele, Leicester, St Andrews, the Open University,
the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (La Palma) and the Instituto de
de Canarias (Tenerife).

WASP is funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and
University Belfast.

Images of the construction site are available from

Further information is available on the project website

Notes for editors:

WASP’s equipment consists of:

  • The CCD — e2v thinned 2048×2048 pixel detectors packaged into a camera by Andor Technology of Belfast.
  • Optics — 200mm f1.8 Canon Lens’s
  • Robotic mounting and custom software from Optical Mechanical Inc (USA)
  • Custom Enclosure by Gendall Rainford Products
  • Telecommunication grade air-conditioning unit (HIWALL) from Liebert Hiross
  • Weather station by Davis
  • GPS time service by Garmin
  • Lightening Conduction by Farrell Engineering (Dublin)
  • Computing: 5 Dell rack mount servers for data acquisition, 5 high specification Dell machines for data reduction, 3com network switches
  • Power supplies from Americam Power Conversion
  • Various pieces of interface equipment produced in QUB electrical and mechanical workshops

Technical details can be found at

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK’s
strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public
understanding in four areas of science — particle physics, astronomy,
and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to
scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class
facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the
European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), and the European Space Agency.
It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii,
Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal
Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes
Lovell Telescope at sJodrell Bank observatory.

PPARC’s Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme funds both
small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public
understanding of its areas of science.

[ (1.3MB)]
An artist’s impression of the possible scene from a moon orbiting an
planet in orbit around the star HD 23079. The planet is about three times the
mass of Jupiter and orbits the star in 628 days, with a nearly circular orbit
one and half times the Earth-Sun distance (almost the same as that of Mars).
Artist’s impression by David A. Hardy.

SpaceRef staff editor.