Exoplanetary Systems and Solar System

Every month a new planetary system is discovered. The Severo Ochoa project is supporting the ongoing work at the IAC on the following topics related to the Exoplanetary and Solar systems research line:

  1. Detecting and characterizing giant and rocky planets around nearby stars, with a focus on planets in the habitable zone and systems around binary stars and unusual transiting components.
  2. Understanding the physical properties of asteroids, comets, transitional and trans-neptunian objects and the origin and evolution of the Solar System.

A major research goal is to achieve the detection of Earth-like planets around nearby stars using new more advanced high-resolution and ultra-stable spectrographs (the IAC co-leads ESPRESSO for VLT; leads HORuS for GTC; and participates in CARMENES for the 3.5m CAHA and NIRPS for 3.5 m La Silla), and with high precision photometric surveys (team involved in the exploitation of CoRoT, Kepler, CHEOPS and PLATO space missions). Also, the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres from gas giants to exo-Earths to gain insights into their structure, surface conditions and atmospheres, culminating in evaluations on the habitability for the expected discoveries of Earth-sized planets. The IAC is exploiting GTC/OSIRIS exceptional capabilities complemented by unique access in Europe to instrumentation for long-coverage precision spectroscopy and photometry, through the SONG and upcoming LCOGT networks of telescopes. Finally, we are leading efforts in understanding the formation of exoplanet systems and the Earth: via detailed chemical composition studies of planet host stars, and the study of the physical properties of populations and families of small bodies of the Solar System. We aim to obtain information of their role in its origin and evolution and how they could influence the genesis of life.

Specific Goals 2020-2023:

  • Discovery of exo-Earths via radial velocity searches using the available guaranteed time of the IAC in state of the art high-resolution spectrographs, such as ESPRESSO, CARMENES, NIRPS and HARPS3 (more than 500 observing nights already granted for the period).
  • Measuring accurate planetary properties using observations of transiting planets around the closest and brightest host stars from TESS data and ground-based observatories (such as MuSCAT2 and SPECULOOS North), as well as from CHEOPS data for precise radius determination of the smallest exoplanets.
  • Characterize exoplanet atmospheres with ESPRESSO, CARMENES and HARPS-N and JWST to push HeI, alkali and molecular detection from Hot Jupiters down to the super-Earth/mini-Neptune regime, and to contribute to the preparation of the ESA PLATO mission (expected launch in 2026).
  • Develop an Adaptive Optics system for GTC based on a laser guide star (GTCAOLGS), which will allow the direct detection and spectroscopic characterization of young giant planets.
  • Study the atmospheric parameters and composition of planets’ host stars including metal rich white dwarfs to shed light on the composition of the planets / asteroids engulfed during its evolution.
  • To study the physical properties and composition of the minor bodies of Solar System, paying special attention to Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), from the point of view of the planetary defence (Hera and DART missions) and the space exploration (OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 missions), and primitive asteroids (using data from Gaia and JWST). We will also characterize new populations like the extreme trans-neptunian objects (ETNOs) or the interstellar asteroids and comets (e.g. ‘Oumuamua and Borisov).
  • Astronomy and World Heritage: promoting Earth land- and skyscapes.

For previous specific goals visit: 2016-2019 IAC-SO website

Research Lines Scientific Representative of the Severo Ochoa Programme at the IAC
Research Lines Scientific Representative of the Severo Ochoa Programme at the IAC

Discovery of super-Earth and Earth-like planets around low-mass stars:

  • Discovery of super-Earths around nearby M dwarfs (Suarez-Mascareño et al. 2017a, b, A&A, Luque et al. 2018, A&A) and Barnard star, the second closest system to the Sun (Ribas et al. 2018, Nature), based on the analysis of the radial-velocity time series from the HARPS and HARPS-N spectrographs.
  • Discovery of transiting super-Earths around LHS1140 and Pi Mensae (Dittmann et al. 2017, Nature; Huang et al. 2018).
  • A transiting, hot, Earth-sized planet optimal for atmospheric characterization (Luque et al. 2019, A&A) and the Earth-like planets found around Ross 128 and Teegardens star (Bonfils et al. 2018, A&A; Zechmeister et al. 2019, A&A).

Exoplanet atmospheres:

  • Detected for the first time the presence of HeI in a planetary atmosphere. Observations of WASP-69b reveal that this giant exoplanet carries a comet-like tail made up of helium particles escaping from its gravitational field propelled by the ultraviolet radiation of its star (Nortmann et al. 2018, Science).
  • Characterization of the atmospheres of hot Jupiters (Casasayas et al. 2019, A&A; Chen et al. 2018, A&A) reveals the presence of alkali and other metals.
  • Discovery and analysis of strange transiting objects: i) discovery of Boyajian's star (Boyajian et al. 2016, MNRAS) and spectrophotometric follow-up observations with GTC (Deeg et al. 2018 A&A; Boyajian et al. 2018, ApJ) show the brightness variations can best be explained by dust-absorption of sub-micron sized particles; ii) limits to the composition and size of the likely disintegrating planetesimal transiting a white dwarf (Alonso et al., 2016, A&A; Gary et al., 2017, MNRAS).
  • Variations in the Earth’s albedo, a fundamental climate parameter for understanding the radiation budget of the atmosphere, have been studied for the period 1998 - 2014 by observing the Moon. The results show two modest decadal scale cycles in the terrestrial albedo, but with no significant net change over the sixteen years of accumulated data (Palle et al. 2016, Geophysical Research Letters).

Small bodies of the Solar System:

  • A spectroscopic and dynamical study of a pair of extreme trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) with the OSIRIS camera-spectrograph at the GTC (de León et al. 2017 MNRAS Letters) support the existence of a massive object in the outskirts of our Solar System (“Planet Nine”), with mass in the range 10-20 Earth masses, moving in an eccentric and inclined orbit, and with semi-major axis of 300-600 AU.
  • First spectrum of an interstellar comet (2I/Borisov), obtained with the GTC (de León et al. 2019).
  • Characterized the asteroid families that are the sources of asteroids targets of NASA OSIRIS-REx and JAXA Hayabusa2 space missions (de León et al. 2018, Icarus).
  • Deep imaging observations of the activated asteroid P/2016 G1 (PANSTARRS) using the GTC have allowed obtaining information about the amount of dust ejected by the asteroid and the ejection mechanism (Moreno et al. 2019, ApJ Letters). 
  • The OSIRIS-REx probe, a mission with participation of the IAC which will study one of the oldest asteroids in the Solar System, was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on September 2016.

Cultural Astronomy:

  • In July 2019, UNESCO declared as a World Heritage Site the "Cultural Landscape of Risco Caído and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria". Archaeoastronomical and Ethno-astronomical research by IAC were fundamental for the success of the candidature.

Previous Results (2012-2015)

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