Wonderful Potentially Habitable Worlds Around TRAPPIST-1

Wonderful Potentially Habitable Worlds Around TRAPPIST-1
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Abstract Concept of TRAPPIST-1 System credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In May 2016, Michael Gillon and his team announced the discovery of three Earth-sized exoplanets around TRAPPIST-1, an ultra cool M-dwarf star, using the small TRAPPIST telescope at ESO-La Silla, Chile. It was an exciting discovery—yet on that day no one could possibly have imagined that less than a year later they would make another significant discovery involving the same system. But here we are: today, they announced in Nature the discovery of seven potentially habitable Earth-like worlds.

The star, named TRAPPIST-1, is a fairly inconspicuous star in our Milky Way. Small (8% the mass of the sun) and cold (half the temperature of the sun), it is a member of an ultra-cool dwarf population that represents 15% of the star population of our galaxy. In 2016, Gillon and his team detected the transit (i.e., the shadow of a planet passing between its host star and us) of three exoplanets at the inner edge of the habitable zone of their star.

AGU 2015 session: Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets: Progress and Future

Artist concept of the planetary system Kepler 62. Image credit: Danielle Futselaar - SETI Institute
Artist concept of the planetary system Kepler 62. Image credit: Danielle Futselaar – SETI Institute

Join us tomorrow at the AGU Fall Meeting for a session on direct imaging of habitable exoplanets that I organized with my colleagues Ramses Ramirez from Cornell University and David Black.

This session consists in a discussion on the potential of new and future facilities and modeling efforts designed to detect, image and characterize habitable exoplanets, studying their formation, evolution and also the existence of possible biospheres. Topics to be covered in this session include signs of exoplanet habitability and global biosignatures that can be sought with upcoming instrumentation; instrument requirements and technologies to detect these markers; strategies for target selection and prioritization; and impacts of planetary system properties, ground-based and space telescope architectures, and impacts of instrument capabilities on the yield of potentially inhabited exoplanets.

GPI is ready for its new location in Chile

It is now official, The Gemini Planet Imager (“Gee-pi”) is ready for shipping to Chile. This decision was taken on July 19 after the positive pre-delivery acceptance review. From its current home at the University of California Santa Cruz, the instrument’s Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS) began its warm-up a week later (July 25th), and the computers were shut-down two days ago (July 31st).

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The Integral Field Spectrograph (the “eye” of GPI) being installed in the GPI instrument (archive picture from 2012)

GPI is going to be carefully packed for a long trip to Chile. The instrument will be shipped to the southern hemisphere by plane and should arrive by the end of August.

Progress on the GPI exoplanet imager integration

The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a next generation adaptive optics instrument being built for the Gemini Observatory. This is an ambitious project with the goal of directly imaging extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. The instrument is currently being integrated at the University of California at Santa Cruz. After more than a year of testing in a fixed orientation in a clean room, on March 7, 2013, the 2,030 kg instrument was set up on a crane and flexure rig. In collaboration with the UCSC team, we prepared this time lapse video showing GPI being set up in its new position.

GPI instrument being set up on its flexure jig mounting (Credit: GPI consortium)

Being in Toronto for the GPI Science Workshop… remotely

The Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey team held a meeting at the University of Toronto June 13-14, 2012. The purpose was to get updated on the hardware and pipeline, anticipating the installation of the instrument at the Gemini South telescope later this year. We also discussed key science contributions we expect GPI to make, in preparation for the first raft of papers from the survey. For instance, I had a 30 minute talk on (1) how the GPI-discovered planets will connect to the populations studied by other techniques, (2) what we’re learning about planetary systems from dynamical investigations and the Kepler space telescope, for placing the anticipated GPI discoveries in context.

A Snapshot of Exoplanet Study

The study of exoplanets is without any doubt the most active and disrupting field in today astronomy. I had often blogged about it since it is my little obsession. Unfortunately, I have a hard time to keep up with the amount of discoveries and announcements being made every week over the past 3 years. This post is a snapshot of the recent study of exoplanets: what we know, what have been recently discovered and what is coming soon.