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Research and Instrumentation

Research

Beyond the architecture of planetary systems, the study of exoplanet structure and atmospheres holds key insights into their origins and history as well as the long-term prospect to remotely question the potential habitability of these other worlds. While this seems an extraordinary endeavour, in light of what we have learnt about Solar System planets, only a handful of key ingredients are required to start characterising an exoplanet. The fundamental quantities include the mass and the size of the planet, its temperature and some physical characteristics of major chemical ingredients present in its atmosphere. Additionally, a detailed knowledge on the stellar host is required. These fundamental parameters allow us then to gather insights about the composition, formation and evolution history of planets. Our team is developing a comprehensive research program to expand our knowledge in these directions. A large set of observing facilities is used for that goal, including ground and space based equipment.

A long-term perspective is to understand the origin, prevalence and nature of life. With the support of the  Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life program we are part of an international collaboration  conduction a  comprehensive research program in that direction. At Cambridge we are actively collaborating with LMB lab of John Sutherland

CURRENT RESEARCH PROGRAMS

SPECULOOS - Searching for terrestrial planets orbiting ultra-cool stars

Our group is leading a series of programmes aiming at detecting planets that are similar to the Earth in terms of size, which orbit stars that are much cooler than our Sun (M dwarfs). SPECULOOS is a photometric survey designed to discover Earth-size planets transiting the brightest  ultra-cool stars.

Our team owns  and operate Calisto telescope and is part of the   SPECULOOS-South facility located at Paranal. Calisto is a 1m robotic telescopes equipped with CCD cameras operating in the very-near-IR (0.7 to 1 microns).  

SPECULOOS is a global collaboration between the University of Liège in Belgium (Lead), the University of Cambridge, University of Birmingham, University of Bern and MIT

All details can be found on the SPECULOOS website. 

Characterising planets with CHEOPS

The CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS) is the first mission dedicated to search for transits by means of ultrahigh precision photometry on bright stars already known to host planets. By being able to point at nearly any location on the sky, it will provide the unique capability of determining accurate radii for a subset of those planets for which the mass has already been estimated from ground-based spectroscopic surveys. It will also provide precision radii for new planets discovered by the next generation ground-based transits surveys (Neptune-size and smaller). The CHEOPS project is a partnership between European team members, including the University of Cambridge.

All details can be found on the CHEOPS website. 

The Terra Hunting Experiment with HARPS3

The Terra Hunting Experiment (THE) is a proposed radial velocity measurement survey for the Isaac Newton Telescope in La Palma.  The 10 year experiment plans to target a set of our brightest G and K-type stars (V ≤ 8.5) to look for Earth-mass planets on orbital periods much greater than is currently possible (up to a few 100 days); this is approaching the regime of Earth-like planets.  The experiment will build and use a close-copy of the HARPS spectrograph and over the 10 year survery will collect long series of daily RV measurements for each star.  These intense series of regular measurements will help combat signal aliases (false detections) and closely monitor stellar activity to better enable low amplitude RV signals to be retrieved.

The Terra Hunting Experiment consortium is lead by University of Cambridge and partners with University of Exeter, University of Geneva, Leiden University, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Uppsala University, University of Oxford, University of Belfast, University of Princeton, Flatiron NYC.

All details can be found on the HARPS3 website.

Detecting and characterising planets with HARPS-N

The HARPS-N high-resolution spectrograph is a high-precision radial-velocity instrument installed at the TNG on La Palma. It is similar to HARPS on the 3.6-m ESO telescope in Chile.

The HARPS-N Collaboration, including some members of our group, has as its main scientific rationale the characterization and discovery of terrestrial planets by combining transits and Doppler measurements. Two major programmes are run through the collaboration: the follow-up and mass determination of Kepler, K2, and TESS small planet candidates; and the Rocky Planet Search Programme, monitoring bright nearby K dwarfs in search for Earth-like planets.

Additionally, since July 2015, a solar telescope is installed next to the TNG that also feeds into HARPS-N. During the day, HARPS-N observations are taken of the Sun in order to help understand how solar/stellar activity influences the measurement of radial velocity.

All details can be found on the HARPS-N website.

NGTS

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) is a wide-field photometric survey designed to discover transiting Neptune-size and smaller exoplanets around bright stars (magnitude V<13). NGTS will be located at ESO/Paranal (Chile). The NGTS project is a partnership between the University of Cambridge, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Warwick, University of Leicester, Observatoire de Geneve, DLR (Berlin) and Universidad Catolica de Chile.

All details can be found on the NGTS website.

Universal Life - StarLab Experiment

StarLab  is a flexible  a “stellar simulator” to extensively simulate “planetary environments” to realistically study the impact of stellar radiation, particularly the ultraviolet  flux, on the prebiotic chemistry on the Early Earth and on other planets.

This work is done  in collaboration with other department of Cambridge. 

 For more details

 

 

 

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