International team of space scientists to conduct pioneering research into atmospheres of distant exoplanets

Researchers from our Department of Physics and Astronomy, working as part of an international team of seven European institutes, have launched a new project to conduct research into the atmospheres of distant exoplanets.

The known exoplanets, about 4,000 to date, already show how diverse the planets in our galaxy can be, and in recent years scientists have been conducting research into characterising and learning more about these mysterious celestial bodies.

The European Horizon-2020 ExoplANETS project, which includes Drs John Pye and Jonathan Nichols, will run for the next three years, with the kick-off meeting of the project having been recently held in Brussels.

In the framework of the project, novel data calibration and spectral extraction tools, as well as novel ‘retrieval’ tools, based on 3D models of exoplanet atmospheres, will be developed to exploit archival data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Science archives (for the Hubble Space Telescope) combined with NASA Space Archives (for the Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes) and produce a homogeneous and reliable characterisation of exoplanet atmospheres.

Exoplanet and host-star catalogues will be accompanied by computer models to assess the importance of star-planet interactions, for example the ‘space weather’ effects of the star on its planetary system. Our Department of Physics and Astronomy is responsible for leading this Work Package on Host-star properties: the active environment of the exoplanets.

In addition to the delivery of high-level data products, state-of-the-art tools, models and scientific publications, the project will ready researchers to rapidly exploit data from the James Webb Space Telescope – an observatory that will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe and will carry instrumentation co-developed by our University, highlighting our leading expertise in space science.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 776403.