Minerva will be an array of small-aperture robotic telescopes outfitted for both photometry and high-resolution spectroscopy. It will be the first U.S. observatory dedicated to exoplanetary science capable of both precise radial velocimetry and transit studies. The multi-telescope concept will be implemented to either observe separate targets or a single target with a larger effective aperture. The flexibility of the observatory will maximize scientific potential and also provide ample opportunities for education and public outreach. The design and implementation of Minerva will be carried out by postdoctoral and student researchers at Caltech.

A dedicated exoplanet observatory

Quick Facts


Telescope enclosure 1 and telescopes 1 and 2 have been delivered to Caltech for commissioning, performance validation, and early science. Relocation to Mt. Hopkins is scheduled for mid-summer 2014.


Caltech commissioning site:

-118° 07’ 34.5’’ +34° 08’ 10.0’’


Four PlaneWave CDK700, 0.7m telescopes within 2 custom telescope enclosures designed by LCOGT engineers.


2k x 2k back illuminated CCD with 15µm pixels offering > 20’ f.o.v.


Stabilized, R = 75,000 echelle spectrograph with iodine cell for precise radial velocimetry.


Harvard University


Pennsylvania State University

University of Montana

University of New South Wales Caltech

Team Members:

John Johnson (Harvard):

Principal Investigator

Jason Wright (PSU):


Nate McCrady (UM):


Rob Wittenmyer (UNSW):


Jon Swift (CIT):

Project manager

Phil Muirhead (BU):

Project scientist

Peter Plavchan (IPAC):

Instrument scientist

Reed Riddle (Caltech)

Software engineer

Michael Bottom (CIT):


Ming Zhao (PSU):

Transit specialist

Paul Gardner (CIT):


Richard Dekany (CIT):

Systems engineer

Dan McKenna (CIT):

Site manager

Monica He (CIT undergrad):

Site development

Minerva has achieved first light and commissioning is underway on the Caltech campus. The commissioning facility is complete and the performance of our first PlaneWave CDK700 telescope has been validated.  Software development and hardware performance validation will continue through spring 2014. By mid-summer the telescope enclosure and two telescopes at Caltech will be relocated to Mt. Hopkins, Arizona and join our 3rd and 4th telescopes which will be delivered directly to the mountain.

One of our recent exciting results is the demonstration of high photometric precision observations from Pasadena . See the plot of a WASP-12b transit event.

Transit of WASP 12b observed from E. California Blvd. in Pasadena with a best fit transit model from Mandel & Agol (2002). The fit residuals are roughly 3 mmag and the correlated noise was measured to be 8mmag on 40 min time scales (Credit: J. Swift, M. Bottom, M. Zhao).

Also, check out this snapshot of M51!

M51 image taken with an Apogee U230 camera mounted on our PlaneWave CDK700 telescope currently located on the Caltech campus. No filter was used, and no proper flat field was obtained. The seeing was measured to be 2.7” (Credit: P. Gardner, R. Hedrick, J Swift, M. Bottom).


Project Status:

Science Objectives:

The primary science goal of Minerva is to discover Earth-like planets in close-in (less than 50-day) orbits around nearby stars, and super-Earths (3-15 times the mass of Earth) in the habitable zones of the closest Sun-like stars. The secondary goal will be to look for transits (eclipses) of known and newly-discovered extrasolar planets, which provide information about the radii and interior structures of the planets. This second goal uses the proven method used by the Kepler Mission, and the unique design of the Minerva observatory allows us to pursue both goals simultaneously.


photo: M. Wong