Exoplanets - Future European and UK Initiatives

Abstract

The European Space Agency has ambitious plans to search for evidence of biological activity in the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars. This talk will review the current state of Exoplanet science, and discuss future opportunities for UK and European activity in the field.

Planning is already well advanced on a number of ground and space based instruments that are well optimised to study exoplanets including: new coronographic and adaptive optics instrumentation on the ESO VLT and GEMINI telescopes; ground based microlensing, occultation and radial velocity surveys; the COROT mission (2006) to carry out astro-seismology, and attempt to detect rocky planets around other stars; GENIE (Ground based European Nulling Interferometer - 2008) to test technologies for the future DARWIN Mission and search for exo-zodiacal discs and 'Hot Jupiters' using the VLTI interferometer; the proposed SMART-3 mission (2009) to test formation flying techniques and technologies for unconnected space interferometry; GAIA (2010) to search for low mass stellar companions and exoplanets occulting their host stars; and the DARWIN mission to carry out remote sensing of terrestrial exoplanet atmospheres in the mid-infrared spectral region.

Beyond this ambitious programme is it likely that ESA will include a next generation interferometer at submm/far-infrared wavelengths, and a cooled 4 metre telescope that will be up to two orders of magnitude more sensitive than the coming NGST (James Webb Space Telescope) in final part of the 2020 - 2025 planning period.

This talk will overview the current status of Exoplanet science, the European and UK plans in this area, and suggest ways that the UK community and Industry might become more involved.