Institute of Astronomy

A chemical survey of planets in our galaxy

SpeakerTalk DateTalk Series
Giovanna Tinetti (UCL)18 October 2018Institute of Astronomy Colloquia


Thousands of exoplanets have now been discovered with a broad range of
masses, sizes and orbits: from rocky Earth-size planets to large gas giants
grazing the surface of their host star. However, the essential nature of
these exoplanets remains largely mysterious: there is no known, discernible
pattern linking the presence, size, or orbital parameters of a planet to
the nature of its parent star. We have little idea whether the chemistry of a
planet is linked to its formation environment, or whether the type of host
star drives the physics and chemistry of the planet’s birth, and
evolution. Work in exoplanet spectroscopy with current instruments has thus
far been very piecemeal and mainly focused on gaseous planets. 

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope next year will permit for the
first time the remote exploration of smaller planets: super-Earths and
sub-Neptunes. However, progress with the science questions spelled out above
demands a very large, unbiased spectroscopic survey of exoplanets. In the
next decade new dedicated space missions, such as the ESA's next medium-class
science mission ARIEL,  have been conceived to conduct such a survey and to
explore the nature of exoplanet atmospheres and, through this, the key
factors affecting the formation and evolution of planetary systems in our


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