PLATO adopted

This week the ESA M3 mission PLATO has been officially adopted in ESA Science Programme.

PLATO will allow us to continue the quest for rocky planets in the habitable zone. In contrast to Kepler, PLATO will focus on brighter stars, allowing for targets for future follow up, exact mass determination and even spectroscopic characterization of their atmosphere. Due to the high photometric precission and high cadence observations over long time scales will also allow us to use asteroseismology to precisly determine mass and radius of the planets host stars, which again will reflect on our knowledge of the planetary parameters.

Unfortunately PLATO will launch not before 2026. But until then other promissing missions will keep us busy. TESS, a NASA maission, will go for transiting planets on short orbits around nearby stars, CHEOPS, an ESA S mission, will allow us to follow up on already known planetary systems, JWST and the ELT will also get operational which will be on the forefront to further characterize known planets, analyzing their atmospheres.

K2 still producing nice results

K2, the second life of the Kepler satellite is stil observing and producing nice results. I myself, am part of the KESPRINT consortium (an international collaboration joined from the former KEST and ESPRINT consortium). Analysing the publically available K2 data, we look for promising planet candidates and confirm their planetary nature and determine their masses by radial velocity follow up observations.

Looking at ADS today, I saw we were quite productive. As this list only shows K2 planets confirmed by our consortium you can imagen the number of characzterised planets detected by the K2 mission to be much higher.

Here is a list of some papers related to the KEST and KESPRINT Consortium:

  • Gandolfi et al. 2017: The transiting multi-planet system HD3167: a 5.7 MEarth Super-Earth and a 8.3 MEarth mini-Neptune
  • Guenther et al. 2017: K2-106, a system containing a metal rich planet and a planet of lower density
  • Nespral et al. 2017: Mass determination of K2-19b and K2-19c from radial velocities and transit timing variations
  • Fridlund et al. 2017: EPIC 210894022b – A short period super-Earth transiting a metal poor, evolved old star
  • Nowak et al. 2017: EPIC 219388192b—An Inhabitant of the Brown Dwarf Desert in the Ruprecht 147 Open Cluster
  • Eigmüller et al. 2017: K2-60b and K2-107b. A Sub-Jovian and a Jovian Planet from the K2 Mission
  • Barragán et al. 2017: EPIC 218916923 b: a low-mass warm Jupiter on a 29-day orbit transiting an active K0 V star
  • Smith et al. 2017: K2-99: a subgiant hosting a transiting warm Jupiter in an eccentric orbit and a long-period companion
  • Barragán et al. 2016: EPIC 211391664b: A 32 M Neptune-size Planet in a 10 Day Orbit Transiting an F8 Star
  • Grizwa et al. 2016: K2-31b, a Grazing Transiting Hot Jupiter on a 1.26-day Orbit around a Bright G7V Star
  • Johnson et al. 2016: Two Hot Jupiters from K2 Campaign 4


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.