SCOL Project: Search for Earth Like Planets Orbiting Ultra-Cool Stars Amenable to Biosignature Detection
Until 20 years ago, our Solar System has provided the only basis for our knowledge of planets and life in the Universe. This changed dramatically with the 1995 discovery of the first giant planet outside the Solar System, a discovery that fueled a revolution in new astronomical instrumentation and techniques for understanding planet formation and evolution. While it seems an extraordinary endeavor, we have learned what to look for to find signs of life in the other planets. To make highly sensitive observations of planetary transits (in which planets are identified by the slight dimming of a star’s light as the orbiting body crosses its disk), we will complete a new telescope facility to survey one thousand nearby stars of small luminosity and size – known as ultracool stars – to detect Earth-‐sized planets in the habitable zone. No planet in transit has yet been detected around ultracool stars; we expect that photometric precision obtained at high cadence will detect a short-‐period Earth-‐sized planet in transit. Current theory predicts a large population of such close-‐in terrestrial planets and we anticipate that perhaps a dozen may be found in this survey.
Didier Queloz is best known for his 1995 discovery, with Michel Mayor, of the first planet outside our own Solar System. A Professor of Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, he leads a major program to establish an exoplanet research center with the prospect of making further progresses in planet detection. He continues as a Professor at Geneva University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1995, and is part of a leading effort to build the CHEOPS satellite mission. He was a distinguished visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab from 1997 – 1999, before returning to Geneva University as Research Associate in 2000. Professor Queloz has been involved in a series of successful instruments and missions. In 1998 he installed and commissioned the CORALIE spectrograph on the Euler Swiss telescope at La Silla, Chile , while later leading a major update in 2005. He also built and installed EulerCam, a new CCD camera, in 2007 to carry out precise transit measurements. Professor Queloz was the project scientist of the HARPS spectrograph, which has become a world leading planet discovery machine and a “standard” in precise spectrograph design. He was amongst the first to design and build an online data processing package to measure precise radial velocity of stars and he designed and built the HARPS data processing pipeline. He has received numerous awards and honors, including the “Prix de la ville de Genève”, science category (2011), and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards (2011). He received an honorary degree from Queens University Belfast (2012) and the Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate and Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Awards in 2013.