Centre for Exoplanet Research

Areas of research

Planet formation

Observations now provide spatially-resolved images of planet-forming discs, and we see the outer regions of these discs are often highly structured; rings, gaps, spirals, shadows, and some, perhaps all, of these appear to be caused by planets.

The existence of these relatively low-mass planets at such large orbital distances is at odds with our understanding of planet formation and, despite their prevalence in very young discs of a few million years old, direct imaging surveys find that exoplanets at these separations are rare at older ages, for instance at the age of our Sun.

To understand what happens to these planets we must first understand the evolution of gas and dust in the outer regions of protoplanetary discs. Our group has made recent advances to solve this problem by using 2D and 3D HPC simulations of discs, planets, and winds, in order to understand young discs at the early stages of planet formation.

Discovering new worlds

Our observational work involves observing transiting exoplanets from the ground using the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) located at Paranal in Chile. NGTS searches for exoplanets around stars cooler than our Sun, detecting some as smaller than Neptune (e.g. NGTS-4b: the forbidden planet).

Here at Leicester we lead the ground based follow-up of newly discovered planets using telescopes located at the South African Astronomical Observatory. Our research also involves discovering and understanding brown dwarfs – objects that bridge the mass gap between stars and planets. These cool objects are known to have variable clouds not unlike planets in our solar system.

We use ground and space-based spectroscopy to characterise their atmospheres in the optical and infrared wavelengths and work with collaborators to create models of their clouds and energy circulation. We are also part of the Backyard Worlds Citizen Science project, discovering some of the coolest brown dwarfs in our solar neighbourhood.

Back to top