The Gaia global astrometry mission is now entering its fourth year of routine science operations. With the publication of the first data release in September 2016, it has begun to fulfil its promise for revolutionary science in countless aspects of Galactic astronomy and astrophysics. I briefly review the Gaia mission status of operations and the scenario for the upcoming intermediate data releases, focusing on important lessons learned. Then, I illustrate the Gaia exoplanet science case, and discuss how the field will be revolutionized by the power of microarcsecond (μas) astrometry that is about to be unleashed. I conclude by touching upon some of the synergy elements that will call for combination of Gaia data with other indirect and direct detection and characterization techniques, for much improved understanding of exoplanetary systems.
The exoplanet revolution is well underway. The last decade has seen order-of-magnitude increases in the number of known planets beyond the Solar system. Detailed characterization of exoplanetary atmospheres provide the best means for distinguishing the makeup of their outer layers, and the only hope for understanding the interplay between initial composition chemistry, temperature-pressure atmospheric profiles, dynamics and circulation. While pioneering work on the observational side has produced the first important detections of atmospheric molecules for the class of transiting exoplanets, important limitations are still present due to the lack of systematic, repeated measurements with optimized instrumentation at both visible (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths. It is thus of fundamental importance to explore quantitatively possible avenues for improvements. In this paper we report initial results of a feasibility study for the prototype of a versatile multi-band imaging system for very high-precision differential photometry that exploits the choice of specifically selected narrow-band filters and novel ideas for the execution of simultaneous VIS and NIR measurements. Starting from the fundamental system requirements driven by the science case at hand, we describe a set of three opto-mechanical solutions for the instrument prototype: 1) a radial distribution of the optical flux using dichroic filters for the wavelength separation and narrow-band filters or liquid crystal filters for the observations; 2) a tree distribution of the optical flux (implying 2 separate foci), with the same technique used for the beam separation and filtering; 3) an 'exotic' solution consisting of the study of a complete optical system (i.e. a brand new telescope) that exploits the chromatic errors of a reflecting surface for directing the different wavelengths at different foci. In this paper we present the first results of the study phase for the three solutions, as well as the results of two laboratory prototypes (related to the first two options), that simulate the most critical aspects of the future instrument.
We are developing a stable and precise spectrograph for the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) named “iLocater.” The instrument comprises three principal components: a cross-dispersed echelle spectrograph that operates in the YJ-bands (0.97-1.30 μm), a fiber-injection acquisition camera system, and a wavelength calibration unit. iLocater will deliver high spectral resolution (R~150,000-240,000) measurements that permit novel studies of stellar and substellar objects in the solar neighborhood including extrasolar planets. Unlike previous planet-finding instruments, which are seeing-limited, iLocater operates at the diffraction limit and uses single mode fibers to eliminate the effects of modal noise entirely. By receiving starlight from two 8.4m diameter telescopes that each use “extreme” adaptive optics (AO), iLocater shows promise to overcome the limitations that prevent existing instruments from generating sub-meter-per-second radial velocity (RV) precision. Although optimized for the characterization of low-mass planets using the Doppler technique, iLocater will also advance areas of research that involve crowded fields, line-blanketing, and weak absorption lines.
GIARPS (GIAno and haRPS) is a project devoted to have on the same focal station of the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) both the high resolution spectrographs HARPS-N (VIS) and GIANO (NIR) working simultaneously. This could be considered the first and unique worldwide instrument providing cross-dispersed echelle spectroscopy at a high resolution (R=115,000 in the visual and R=50,000 in the IR) and over in a wide spectral range (0.383 - 2.45 μm) in a single exposure. The science case is very broad, given the versatility of such an instrument and the large wavelength range. A number of outstanding science cases encompassing mainly extra-solar planet science starting from rocky planet search and hot Jupiters, atmosphere characterization can be considered. Furthermore both instrument can measure high precision radial velocity by means the simultaneous thorium technique (HARPS - N) and absorbing cell technique (GIANO) in a single exposure. Other science cases are also possible. Young stars and proto- planetary disks, cool stars and stellar populations, moving minor bodies in the solar system, bursting young stellar objects, cataclysmic variables and X-ray binary transients in our Galaxy, supernovae up to gamma-ray bursts in the very distant and young Universe, can take advantage of the unicity of this facility both in terms of contemporaneous wide wavelength range and high resolution spectroscopy.
Theia is a logical successor to Gaia, as a focused, very high precision astrometry mission which addresses two key
science objectives of the ESA Cosmic Vision program: the nature of dark matter and the search for habitable
planets. Theia addresses a number of other science cases strongly synergistic with ongoing/planned missions,
such as the nature of compact objects, motions of stars in young stellar clusters, follow-up of Gaia objects
of interest. Theia s "point and stare" operational mode will enable us to answer some of the most profound
questions that the results of the Gaias survey will ask. Extremely-high-precision astrometry at 1-μas level can
only be reached from space. The Theia spacecraft, which will carry a 0.8-m telescope, is foreseen to operate
at L2 for 3,5 years. The preliminary Theia mission assessment allowed us to identify a safe and robust mission
architecture that demonstrates the mission feasibility within the Soyuz ST launch envelope and a small M-class
mission cost cap. We present here these features of the mission that has been submitted to the last ESA M4 call
in January 2015.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will search for planets transiting bright and nearby stars. TESS has been selected by NASA for launch in 2017 as an Astrophysics Explorer mission. The spacecraft will be placed into a highly elliptical 13.7-day orbit around the Earth. During its 2-year mission, TESS will employ four wide-field optical charge-coupled device cameras to monitor at least 200,000 main-sequence dwarf stars with IC≈4−13 for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. Each star will be observed for an interval ranging from 1 month to 1 year, depending mainly on the star’s ecliptic latitude. The longest observing intervals will be for stars near the ecliptic poles, which are the optimal locations for follow-up observations with the James Webb Space Telescope. Brightness measurements of preselected target stars will be recorded every 2 min, and full frame images will be recorded every 30 min. TESS stars will be 10 to 100 times brighter than those surveyed by the pioneering Kepler mission. This will make TESS planets easier to characterize with follow-up observations. TESS is expected to find more than a thousand planets smaller than Neptune, including dozens that are comparable in size to the Earth. Public data releases will occur every 4 months, inviting immediate community-wide efforts to study the new planets. The TESS legacy will be a catalog of the nearest and brightest stars hosting transiting planets, which will endure as highly favorable targets for detailed investigations.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS ) will search for planets transiting bright and nearby stars. TESS has been selected by NASA for launch in 2017 as an Astrophysics Explorer mission. The spacecraft will be placed into a highly elliptical 13.7-day orbit around the Earth. During its two-year mission, TESS will employ four wide-field optical CCD cameras to monitor at least 200,000 main-sequence dwarf stars with IC (approximately less than) 13 for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. Each star will be observed for an interval ranging from one month to one year, depending mainly on the star's ecliptic latitude. The longest observing intervals will be for stars near the ecliptic poles, which are the optimal locations for follow-up observations with the James Webb Space Telescope. Brightness measurements of preselected target stars will be recorded every 2 min, and full frame images will be recorded every 30 min. TESS stars will be 10-100 times brighter than those surveyed by the pioneering Kepler mission. This will make TESS planets easier to characterize with follow-up observations. TESS is expected to find more than a thousand planets smaller than Neptune, including dozens that are comparable in size to the Earth. Public data releases will occur every four months, inviting immediate community-wide efforts to study the new planets. The TESS legacy will be a catalog of the nearest and brightest stars hosting transiting planets, which will endure as highly favorable targets for detailed investigations.
The Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) hosts, starting in April 2012, the visible spectrograph HARPS-N. It is based
on the design of its predecessor working at ESO's 3.6m telescope, achieving unprecedented results on radial velocity
measurements of extrasolar planetary systems. The spectrograph's ultra-stable environment, in a temperature-controlled
vacuum chamber, will allow measurements under 1 m/s which will enable the characterization of rocky, Earth-like
planets. Enhancements from the original HARPS include better scrambling using octagonal section fibers with a shorter
length, as well as a native tip-tilt system to increase image sharpness, and an integrated pipeline providing a complete set
Observations in the Kepler field will be the main goal of HARPS-N, and a substantial fraction of TNG observing time
will be devoted to this follow-up. The operation process of the observatory has been updated, from scheduling
constraints to telescope control system. Here we describe the entire instrument, along with the results from the first
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory (EChO) is a space mission dedicated to undertaking spectroscopy of
transiting exoplanets over the widest wavelength range possible. It is based around a highly stable space platform with a
1.2 m class telescope. The mission is currently being studied by ESA in the context of a medium class mission within
the Cosmic Vision programme for launch post 2020. The payload suite is required to provide simultaneous coverage
from the visible to the mid-infrared and must be highly stable and effectively operate as a single instrument. In this
paper we describe the integrated spectrometer payload design for EChO which will cover the 0.4 to 16 micron
wavelength band. The instrumentation is subdivided into 5 channels (Visible/Near Infrared, Short Wave InfraRed, 2 x Mid Wave InfraRed; Long Wave InfraRed) with a common set of optics spectrally dividing the input beam via dichroics.
We discuss the significant design issues for the payload and the detailed technical trade-offs that we are undertaking to
produce a payload for EChO that can be built within the mission and programme constraints and yet which will meet the
exacting scientific performance required to undertake transit spectroscopy.
Recent advances in deformable mirror technology for correcting wavefront errors and in pupil shapes and masks for coronagraphic suppression of diffracted starlight enable a powerful approach to detecting extrasolar planets in reflected (scattered) starlight at visible wavelengths. We discuss the planet-finding performance of Hubble-like telescopes using these technical advances. A telescope of aperture of at least 4 meters could accomplish the goals of the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission. The '4mTPF' detects an Earth around a Sun at five parsecs in about one hour of integration time. It finds molecular oxygen, ozone, water vapor, the 'red edge' of chlorophyll-containing land-plant leaves, and the total atmospheric column density -- all in forty hours or less. The 4mTPF has a strong science program of discovery and characterization of extrasolar planets and planetary systems, including other worlds like Earth. With other astronomical instruments sharing the focal plane, the 4mTPF could also continue and expand the general program of astronomical research of the Hubble Space Telescope.