ExoplANETS-A project

Seven European institutes join together to combine their expertise in the study of extra-solar planets.

EU emblemSince the discovery announcement of the first extra-solar planet in 1995, the following twenty years have witnessed exceptionally fast development in this field. The known exoplanets, about 4000 to date, already show how diverse the planets in our galaxy can be. While the discovery of more exoplanets is an important ongoing field of activity, the probing and characterization of their atmospheres has just begun and is developing very rapidly. A lot can be learnt from spectroscopic observations of an exoplanet atmosphere; the molecular composition of giant exoplanet atmospheres can trace the planet's formation and evolution; the atmosphere of rocky exoplanets can host biosignature gases. However, the observations are challenging because the signal is often embedded in instrumental and telescope systematic noise.

Seven institutes* in Europe have combined their expertise in that field to developExoplanets AtheEuropean Horizon-2020 ExoplANETS_A project under the coordination of CEA Saclay. The consortium includes the University of Leicester, with the Department’s John Pye and Jonny Nichols as investigators.

The kick-off meeting of the project has just been held in Brussels, and the project will run for the next three years. In the framework of the project, novel data calibration and spectral extraction tools, as well as novel ‘retrieval’ tools, based on 3D models of exoplanet atmospheres, will be developed to exploit archival data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Science archives (for the Hubble Space Telescope) combined with NASA Space Archives (for the Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes) and produce a homogeneous and reliable characterization of exoplanet atmospheres. Additionally, to model successfully the atmosphere of an exoplanet, it is necessary to have a sound knowledge of the host star. To this end, we will collect a coherent and uniform database of the relevant properties of host stars from ESA Space Science archives (for the XMM-Newton and Gaia space observatories), combined with international space mission and ground-based data. These exoplanet and host-star catalogues will be accompanied by computer models to assess the importance of star – planet interactions, for example the ‘space weather’ effects of the star on its planetary system. The Department is responsible for leading this Work Package on Host-star properties: the active environment of the exoplanets. The project is funding a post-doc position to work with JPP and JDN.

The knowledge gained from this project will be published through peer-reviewed scientific journals and modelling tools will be publicly released. Results will also be made widely known via international scientific conferences and articles in general science media.

In addition to the delivery of high-level data products, state of the art tools, models and scientific publications, the project will ready us to rapidly exploit data from the James Webb Space Telescope – successor to Hubble, which will be highly competitive and will be an excellent preparation to space missions dedicated to the study of exoplanet atmospheres, such as ESA’s proposed ARIEL mission.

* Department of Astrophysics (DAp) at CEA-Saclay (France), INTA in Spain, MPIA in Germany, University College London and University of Leicester in UK, SRON in Netherlands, Wien University in Austria.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 776403.

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