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Magnetic Fields and the Formation of New Worlds

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NewWorlds (Magnetic Fields and the Formation of New Worlds)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-09-30

Magnetic fields impact the formation of low-mass stars and their planets, and contribute to setting adequate conditions for life to appear. They control the amount of material and angular momentum from which stars and their planets form and mature, and can save newborn close-in planets from falling into their host stars. Magnetic fields can also affect planets by eroding their atmospheres and limiting their habitability, while hampering at the same time their detectability. Our understanding of these issues is however limited and critically needs observational guidance.

NewWorlds addresses these forefront topics by exploiting SPIRou, a new state-of-the-art near-infrared spectropolarimeter / velocimeter integrated in our group in 2017 and installed in 2018 on the 3.6-m Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) in Hawaii. Since 2019, SPIRou is carrying out a Large Observation Programme called the SPIRou Legacy Survey (SLS), directly related to NewWorlds' objectives and totaling 300 CFHT nights over the next few years.

With SPIRou and the SLS, the dedicated NewWorlds team and collaborators will unveil tens of unknown planets orbiting our closest stellar neighbors, including rocky planets located in the Habitable Zone of their host stars where water can pool at the planets’ surfaces. NewWorlds will also explore how stars and their planetary systems like our own Solar System form and evolve into maturity, and how magnetic fields contribute to their birth.

As recently illustrated by the Nobel Prized in Physics awarded to the discoverers of the first exoplanet, NewWorlds’ results, addressing the existence of other potentially habitable worlds around nearby stars as well as the mysteries of the origins of life in the Solar System, will be of obvious interest for the general public.
"A lot of energy so far has been dedicated to install SPIRou on CFHT (see image #2) and to ensure that this technically very challenging instrument (cooled down to -200°C and regulated at a precision of a thousandth of a °C) is well tested and performing nominally, so that our Large Observing Programme, the SLS, could start as soon as possible. This task was completed in early 2019, about a year later than initially planned as a result of various technical difficulties encountered in the installation process.

At the same time, we implemented a new reference calibrator on SPIRou, a Laser Frequency Comb funded by NewWorlds and installed at CFHT in late 2018, whose ultimate stability will further improve the velocimetric performances of SPIRou. This step also proved more complex than initially thought, both for the manufacturer and for us, leading to a 1-yr delay on the initial schedule.

In parallel, we focused on preparing the forthcoming SPIRou observations, by selecting the sample of the most interesting young and nearby stars to be studied within the SLS, and by starting to observe some of these stars with existing instruments (like ESPadOnS at CFHT). We also carried out simulations to optimize the observing strategy and maximize our chances of detecting new planets.

With 2 Postdocs and 4 PhDs already recruited so far, the NewWorlds science team is growing up fast and working in a collaborative way, with some of us concentrating on modeling the SPIRou observations that have started to pour in (see image #1), while the others elaborate improved theoretical models (of star / planet formation, of dynamo generation of magnetic fields) to be challenged by NewWorlds’ forthcoming discoveries.

An exhibition dedicated to SPIRou and NewWorlds’ topics on the theme of « Habitable Worlds » is being prepared at the same time with outreach professionals from ""La Cité de l’Espace"" in Toulouse to ensure a broad dissemination of our future results. A new 4-page comic episode in the adventures of SPIRou was also released, and a SPIRou model at a scale of 1:10 was built by professional model maker ""Space Model"" (see image #3) to render outreach events even more visual and attractive."
SPIRou is now in operation, and is unarguably the best and only instrument worldwide capable of carrying spectropolarimetry and velocimetry at near-infrared wavelengths at such a high level of precision. Our new reference calibrator, the Laser Frequency Comb, is used regularly and is being further improved so that it can reach the best possible performances.

Now that most technical challenges are behind us, that SPIRou data have started pouring in and that the team is well organized and operational, NewWorlds is entering the most exciting period, with lots of new science results expected soon on planetary systems of nearby stars and on the formation of Sun-like stars and their planets. Outreach is being organized in parallel (with an exhibition to be released, and a video documentary soon to follow) so that NewWorlds discoveries can be widely shared with a broad public.