Suvrath Mahadevan

Penn State University researcher Suvrath Mahadevan. (psu.edu photo)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After an intense national competition, a Penn State University research group led by Suvrath Mahadevan, an Indian American assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, has been selected by NASA's Astrophysics Division to build a $10-million, cutting-edge instrument to detect planets orbiting stars outside our solar system.

When completed in 2019, the instrument will be the centerpiece of a partnership between NASA and the National Science Foundation called the NASA-NSF Exoplanet Observational Research program, according to Penn State News.

"We are privileged to have been selected to build this new instrument for the exoplanet community," Mahadevan said. "This is a testament to our multi-institutional and interdisciplinary team of talented graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and senior scientists."

The instrument, named NEID, will detect planets by the tiny gravitational tug they exert on their stars.

"NEID will be more stable than any existing spectrograph, allowing astronomers around the world to make the precise measurements of the motions of nearby, sun-like stars," said Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a member of the science advisory team.

The NEID team is a multi-institutional collaboration, consisting of exoplanet scientists and engineers from Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Colorado, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Macquarie University in Australia, Australian Astronomical Observatory, and Physical Research Laboratory in India.

"NEID is a transformative capability in the search for worlds like our own," Mahadevan said.

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