Renovation of the German-Spanish agreement for the future of Calar Alto

After many moths and a lot of work …. (and this is one of the reasons why I was not active writing posts, or in science) ….

We have an agreement! Calar Alto Observatory (Almería, Southern Spain) will continue it scientific operations up to the end of 2018. I am attaching the press release.

On December 2nd 2010, the German Max Planck Society (MPG) and Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have signed an agreement in order to operate the Calar Alto Observatory at the German-Spanish Astronomical Centre during the period 2014-2018. The German-Spanish Astronomical Centre (CAHA) is a joint venture of the German MPG and the Spanish CSIC. Both partners renew their commitment with the German-Spanish Astronomical Centre (CAHA), to mantain the observatory at the forefront of scientific research in the coming years.

The new agreement poses special focus on the development and scientific exploitation of the new CARMENES spectrograph for the 3.5 m telescope. CARMENES (Calar Alto High-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and optical Échelle Spectrographs) is presently being designed and will be capable of detecting habitable planets similar to Earth around the smallest and coolest stars of the solar neighbourhood in our Galaxy. A minimum of six hundred telescope nights are granted for this search during the five year period.

The German-Spanish Astronomical Centre was born in 1973 through an international agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of Spain. The institution operates the most outstanding astronomical observatory placed on continental Europe, whose facilities have played a key role in the development of astronomy in Spain during the last decades. The funding and operation of the Observatory were performed by the Max Planck Society, through its Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (Heidelberg) until the end of 2003. Since 2004, the Calar Alto Observatory is operated jointly by the two partners MPG and CSIC (through its Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia, at Granada). CAHA Director, D. Barrado, states: “The new agreement, signed in 2010, guarantees the future of the Calar Alto Observatory, which will keep its position as a central piece of Spanish and German astronomy for many more years.”

The confirmation of the first super-Earth

I have to confess that sometimes I am very tired of my trips: conferences, workshops, meetings, observing runs… I hate airports, I do not like the security and the waste of time, and I would prefer to avoid the effect of all these trips in my social life, since I spend a significant amount of time away.

However … sometimes (or many) is wonderful.

I am in Barcelona, for the conference “Pathways toward habitable exoplanets”. Today, a member of the Corot/HARPS team has announced the confirmation by radial velocities techniques of the first super-planet: Corot-7b, and the detection of a second planet around the same star. they should have masses of 4.8 and 8.4 earth masses, and due to their very short orbital periods (0.89 and 3.7 days), they should be very exotic, with a huge difference between the hemisphere always facing the star (about 200 K) and the night side, almost at 50 .

Información en español

A new exoplanet approaching the mass of Earth

In the JENAM (European Astronomical Society Meeting), in England … plenty of wonderful results. Of course, from my point of view, the most important is the announcement by Michael Mayor of a new exoplanet, with an extremely low mass, only twice the earth value (although it depends on the inclination of the orbit).

I have a kind of déjà vu. I was in Florence 14 years ago when he announced the discovered the first exoplanet orbiting around a solar type star. It amazement how far we have gone in these few years, and the group of Prof. Mayor has played a key rôle on this very exciting area.

Link to the info in Spanish.

RoPACS: Rocky Planets Around Cool Stars

RoPACS, one of the big collaborations I am involved, is a European network which has the goal of training PhD students in the field of the exoplanet search and characterization (by the way, we are opening 11 positions in several countries across Europe). The network is being coordinated by David Pinfield, from the Hertfordshire University. In order to achieve this aim, we are exploiting the WFCAM Transit survey, an ambitious project which has been granted several hundred nights at the UKIRT telescope over the next few years. We are monitoring a significant amount of M dwarfs in the near infrared, trying to detect subtle changes in their light curves which might be induced by the presence of planets. Since M dwarfs emit most of their energy at those wavelengths, and since relative size between the fiducial planet and the host star is larger (ie, the deeps in the light curves are more relevant), we do believe this is the best strategy to detect a rocky planet: am Earth-like body orbiting around other star.

During the last two days, I have organized the “kick-off meeting” at the “Centro de Astrobiología“, a face-to-face lively discussion where we have been able to clarify several issues and define the best startegy for the future. It has been a little bit exhausting (hotel booking, transportation, etc), but the effort has been worth it and I hope we will have interesting results soon enough.