Terraforming of Exoplanets

In context of an interview by highschool students I had to answer some questions in regards to terraforming of exoplanets. This interview included topics such as detection of earth like planets, possible space travel scenarios to those planets and ethical implications of inhabiting new worlds.

The question went a bit further than what I am working on, but nevertheless it was fun thinking about all this stuff. In my believe we have a real chance to find a planet similar to earth and to be able to detect first hints for extrasolar live (if it exists) in exoplanets atmospheres in the next 20-50 years. Everything beyond this point is pure speculation.

With projects such as StarShot we might be able in a next step (another 50 years maybe?) to send nanoprobes to those places. But already sending such nanoprobes is at the moment out of reach and needs lots of new technology.  This makes it hard to go any further in speculation.





Proxima Centauri b

Artist’s impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Yesterday it was officially announced that a probably rocka planet in the habitable zone was detected around our nearest star Proxima Centauri (nature paper). This is a new milestone for planet hunters. Although we already knew that most stars will host planets, it is very assuring to know that one potentially habitable planet is in our closest neighbourhood.

Unfortunatly it seems this planet is not a transiting planet. Otherwise we could start immediatly to analyse its atmosphere with transmission spectroscopy. As it is not transiting we can use phase curves and Direct imaging to analyse the planet in more detail. For phasecurves we will need spaceborn telescopes, and i bet JWST will look at this planet in more detail once it is operational. For direct imaging we are far away from observing such targets, as it is very close to its host star. With the E-ELT we expect to image planets as close as 1 AU, but this planet is at 0.05AU, so there is some more  developement to be done.

I gave in the last days two interviews to this discovery in german newspapers, you can find the articles here, and here.



I am back

Half a year has past. My son is now one year old and I am back at work. Unfortunately we have not  yet a place for him in the kindergarten. Or to be more precise, the kindergarten is not yet finished where we have a place for him. We hope that the kindergarten will be ready in mid october.

In the coming days I will try to get an overview on what needs to be done, but it seems there is a lot.

NGTS has had it first light curing my absence, at least with the first of twelve telescopes. In the coming months we will try to set up the other eleven systems. In the meantime we analyse the first data gathered to see what can be optimized and to test the data anaylsis pipeline.

PLATO is now in its B1 phase. The kick off meeting was in July, and now everybody is working hard to prepare hardware and documents for the PDCR.



My son is now six month old. I’m now and paternity leave until September. Not sure how this will influence my writing on this blog. We will see. For now I will go on pause.


PLATO selected

I’m a bit late,but it needs to be posted as it is to important.

PLATO got selected!!!

Now exoplanet community looks into a bright future. This year NGTS will have first light detecting new hot Neptunes and super-Earth planets. This will be followed by CHEOPS (ESA), a characterizing mission and TESS (NASA) which will detect hot/warm super-earth planets around nearby stars. And 2024 PLATO will go for an earth around another sun. And PLATO will allow to determine mass, radius and ages of planets with unprecedented precision.

This will not only give us the chance to have a second earth detected in my lifetime, but will give us a much more complete understanding on planetary systems, their formation and evolution. This might also change our view on the solar system.


SSAC recommended PLATO

The rumours of the last days now got out… A BBC article now states that PLATO is in the pole position for the M3 selection. It is a needed step in exoplanet science and after the odd M1/M2 selection process, it was well deserved. Of course I’m biased, but i have to say that the science case of PLATO is extremly compelling, and without PLATO the future in Exoplanet science would be much less exciting. With PLATO the search for the second habitable planet goes into the right direction.

More about PLATO can be found on my site and here and here.

Another blog entry about the recommendation can be found here.


ESA L2 / L3 selection

This year ESA will select the themes for the L2 and L3 missions. And although the final and official decision is still pending, we heard already a few weeks ago about the status selection. The best bet is on High energy physics and gravitational physics.

This means for the pending M3 selection the stake on exoplanets gets higher. If no exoplanet mission is selected in M3, ESA will miss a great chance to get a leading role in this topic of high public interest and let the US do the space based exploration of extrasolar worlds. The small ESA mission Cheops will not be able compensate for this.

In a more global view, i have to say the chances to find biosignatures like ozon on rocky extrasolar worlds during my lifetime will drop dramatically if PLATO will not be selected. As Echo will only be able to observe larger gasous planets and no other large mission to directly observe small extrasolar worls is planned at the moment, PLATO is the only chance to find small planets which can then be followed up with JWST and the future ELT instruments.



The ressurection of Kepler

A very nice article about the possible future of Kepler can be found here.

It seems they have good idea what is still possible to do with Kepler. and thats much. It will be possible to have pointing in the ecliptic plane of about 40-80 days each. So Kepler will not be able to continue its long pointing but can instead search with short pointings at different positions of the sky for shorter period planets. So it will be more like CoRoT, but with higher accuracy and not the limitations to the eyes of CoRoT but to the ecliptic. The final decission on the future of Kepler will be made in mid-2014.