Like some other Carnegie astronomers, staff associate Jeffrey Crane blends science with technology. His primary interests are instrumentation, the Milky Way and the neighboring Local Group of galaxies, in addition to extrasolar planets. In 2004, then-research associate Crane joined Steve Shectman, Ian Thompson, and the Carnegie team to design the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS), now installed and operational on the Magellan Clay telescope.
Radial velocities are the speeds and directions of stars moving away from or toward the Earth. Extrasolar planet hunters use them to detect the telltale wobbles of stars that are gravitationally tugged by orbiting planets. Astronomical spectrographs take collected light from a telescope and disperse it. The spectrum of wavelengths reveal elements in stellar atmospheres. The elements absorb light at specific wavelengths, creating narrow absorption lines in the spectra, revealing the star’s chemistry. The instrument measures shifts in these lines that are caused by changes in the star’s motion. Astronomers use velocity trends to infer planet orbital masses and other parameters.
The original goal for the PFS was to measure velocities to within 1 meter per second, currently considered state-of-the-art. Although velocity measurements precise to 3 meters per second had been demonstrated, only one other instrument in the world had achieved 1-meter-per-second precision prior to 2010. Results from the PFS have exceeded expectations. The velocity precision may be as good as 66 centimeters per second, making this instrument a superior planet-hunting machine.
Crane received his B.S. in physics from Arizona State University. He received his M.S. and Ph. D. in astronomy from the University of Virginia, where he discovered that he wanted to merge his love for the stars with instrumentation. For more information see http://users.obs.carnegiescience.edu/crane/