Exoplanetary Systems and Solar System


Every month a new planetary system is discovered. The Severo Ochoa project is supporting the ongoing work at the IAC on the following topics related to the Exoplanetary and Solar systems research line:

1) Detecting and characterizing giant and rocky planets around nearby stars, with a focus on planets in the habitable zone and systems around binary stars and unusual transiting components.

2) Understanding the physical properties of asteroids, comets, transitional and trans-neptunian objects and the origin and evolution of the Solar System.


Specific Goals 2020-2023:

  • Discovery of exo-Earths via radial velocity searches using the available guaranteed time of the IAC in state of the art high-resolution spectrographs, such as ESPRESSO, CARMENES, NIRPS and HARPS3 (More than 500 observing nights already granted for the period)
  • Measuring accurate planetary properties using observations of transiting planets around the closest and brightest host stars from TESS data and ground-based observatories (such as MuSCAT2 and SPECULOOS North), as well as from CHEOPS data for precise radius determination of the smallest exoplanets.
  • Characterize exoplanet atmospheres with ESPRESSO, CARMENES and HARPS-N and JWST to push HeI, alkali and molecular detection from Hot Jupiters down to the super-Earth/mini-Neptune regime, and to contribute to the preparation of the ESA PLATO mission (expected launch in 2026).
  • Develop an Adaptive Optics system for GTC based on a laser guide star (GTCAOLGS), which will allow the direct detection and spectroscopic characterization of young giant planets.
  • Study the atmospheric parameters and composition of planets’ host stars including metal rich white dwarfs to shed light on the composition of the planets / asteroids engulfed during its evolution.
  • To study the physical properties and composition of the minor bodies of Solar System, paying special attention to Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), from the point of view of the planetary defence (Hera and DART missions) and the space exploration (OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 missions), and primitive asteroids (using data from Gaia and JWST). We will also characterize new populations like the extreme trans-neptunian objects (ETNOs) or the interstellar asteroids and comets (e.g. ‘Oumuamua and Borisov).
  • Astronomy and World Heritage: promoting Earth land- and skyscapes.


Specific Goals 2016-2019:

  • Develop spectroscopic/imaging techniques to search/detect Earth-like planets.
  • Characterize exoplanet atmospheres to gain insight into their structure, surface conditions and atmospheres, including chemical composition studies which will inform on the genesis and evolution of our world and similar ones.
  • Determine the physical properties of small bodies of the solar system, and search for interrelations and links with their dynamical history, which will inform on the origin and evolution of our planetary system.
  • Search for evidence of the presence of water-ice and complex organics in primitive objects. This will inform on the amount of water-ice and organics that incorporated the Earth due to collisions with small bodies.


Main Scientific Outputs:


  • Deep imaging observations of the activated asteroid P/2016 G1 (PANSTARRS) using the GTC have allowed obtaining information about the amount of dust ejected by the asteroid and the ejection mechanism (published in The Astrophyscial Journal Letters). 
  • The OSIRIS-REx probe, a mission with participation of the IAC which will study one of the oldest asteroids in the Solar System, was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on September 2016.
  • Variations in the Earth’s albedo, a fundamental climate parameter for understanding the radiation budget of the atmosphere, have been studied for the period 1998 - 2014 by observing the Moon. The results show two modest decadal scale cycles in the terrestrial albedo, but with no significant net change over the sixteen years of accumulated data (published in the Geophysical Research Letters). 



  • The discovery of a super-Earth orbiting the neaby M-dwarf star GJ536 has been done based on the analysis of the radial-velocity time series from the HARPS and HARPS-N spectrographs (published in Astronomy & Astrophysics).
  • First spectra of two extreme trans-Neptunian objects have been obtained with the OSIRIS camera-spectrograph at the GTC. The observations support the “Planet Nine” hypothesis, with a planet in the range 10-20 Earth masses, moving in an eccentric and inclined orbit, with semi-major axis of 300-600 AU (published in MNRAS Letters). 


Previous Results (2012-2015)

Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. C/ Via Láctea s/n 38200, La Laguna. Canary Islands. Spain.
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