The main focus of this project is to search for extrasolar planets (exoplanets) with two innovative direct imaging surveys, designed to answer a specific list of open questions in our understanding of planet formation and evolution, and making use of the best facilities and observing methods available.
The SPOTS project (Search for Planets Orbiting Two Stars), initiated and led by the applicant, will survey 67 young nearby spectroscopic binary stars in search of circumbinary planets. Such targets have been actively avoided by most previous surveys, leaving vast parts of the planetary parameter space unexplored. Through SPOTS, the applicant will establish first stringent constraints on the circumbinary planet population and conduct a statistical comparison with the large body of similar studies on single stars. Since binarity is predicted to have different effects on the two competing planet formation mechanisms, the results will provide invaluable insights on a wide range of physical processes involved in planet formation and evolution.
The applicant will furthermore take a leading role in the commissioning and GTO survey of the SPHERE ZIMPOL imaging polarimeter for ESO's VLT, drawing on his years of experience in co-developing the instrument. He will employ ZIMPOL's peerless performance to search for reflected light from cold planets in the habitable zones of the most nearby stars, as well as to image the tell-tale signs of planet formation in circumstellar disks.
Both surveys offer good chances of extremely high-impact discoveries (first imaged circumbinary planet, first imaged habitable-zone planet), and provide important, lasting contributions to the field even in the case of non-detection, promoting European research excellence. The projects rely on IEF mobility to combine the applicant's and the host institute's complementary and synergistic skill sets, experiences, and resources.
- /scienze naturali/scienze fisiche/astronomia/scienze planetarie/pianeti/esoplanetologia
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