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:

  • 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:

Discovery of super-Earth and Earth-like planets around low-mass stars:

  • Discovery of super-Earths around nearby M dwarfs (Suarez-Mascareño et al. 2017a, b, A&A, Luque et al. 2018, A&A) and Barnard star, the second closest system to the Sun (Ribas et al. 2018, Nature), based on the analysis of the radial-velocity time series from the HARPS and HARPS-N spectrographs.
  • Discovery of transiting super-Earths around LHS1140 and Pi Mensae (Dittmann et al. 2017, Nature; Huang et al. 2018).
  • A transiting, hot, Earth-sized planet optimal for atmospheric characterization (Luque et al. 2019, A&A) and the Earth-like planets found around Ross 128 and Teegardens star (Bonfils et al. 2018, A&A; Zechmeister et al. 2019, A&A).

Exoplanet atmospheres:

  • Detected for the first time the presence of HeI in a planetary atmosphere. Observations of WASP-69b reveal that this giant exoplanet carries a comet-like tail made up of helium particles escaping from its gravitational field propelled by the ultraviolet radiation of its star (Nortmann et al. 2018, Science).
  • Characterization of the atmospheres of hot Jupiters (Casasayas et al. 2019, A&A; Chen et al. 2018, A&A) reveals the presence of alkali and other metals.
  • Discovery and analysis of strange transiting objects: i) discovery of Boyajian's star (Boyajian et al. 2016, MNRAS) and spectrophotometric follow-up observations with GTC (Deeg et al. 2018 A&A; Boyajian et al. 2018, ApJ) show the brightness variations can best be explained by dust-absorption of sub-micron sized particles; ii) limits to the composition and size of the likely disintegrating planetesimal transiting a white dwarf (Alonso et al., 2016, A&A; Gary et al., 2017, MNRAS).
  • 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 (Palle et al. 2016, Geophysical Research Letters).


Small bodies of the Solar System:

  • A spectroscopic and dynamical study of a pair of extreme trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) with the OSIRIS camera-spectrograph at the GTC (de León et al. 2017 MNRAS Letters) support the existence of a massive object in the outskirts of our Solar System (“Planet Nine”), with mass in the range 10-20 Earth masses, moving in an eccentric and inclined orbit, and with semi-major axis of 300-600 AU.
  • First spectrum of an interstellar comet (2I/Borisov), obtained with the GTC (de León et al. 2019).
  • Characterized the asteroid families that are the sources of asteroids targets of NASA OSIRIS-REx and JAXA Hayabusa2 space missions (de León et al. 2018, Icarus).
  • 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 (Moreno et al. 2019, ApJ 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.


Cultural Astronomy:

  • In July 2019, UNESCO declared as a World Heritage Site the "Cultural Landscape of Risco Caído and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria". Archaeoastronomical and Ethno-astronomical research by IAC were fundamental for the success of the candidature.


Previous Results (2012-2015)

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