“The Next Generation Search for Earth-like Worlds”
This program of research into extrasolar planets will include using existing ground and space facilities to extend our knowledge of planetary systems as a framework for these future missions, and theoretical work on the astrobiology of Earth-like planets. The following areas will be addressed.
1) Future space transit missions
After the NASA Kepler space mission in 2008, there are a number of options for further space transit missions that will only be accessible through space transit observations.
Amongst these observations will be:
all-sky surveys for planets orbiting nearby stars
large aperture wide-field searches for small terrestrial planets
very large aperture telescopes for transit spectroscopy
Dr. Penny will analyse the results of the new all-sky survey of SMEI and the future large area survey possible with the STEREO mission, further coupled with a study of the limitations of ground all-sky surveys, using data acquired by the VULCAN project.
2) Science of extrasolar planetary systems
A search for giant extrasolar planets will be made, using both ground and space telescopes, in order to understand the distribution of planetary systems. These searches will consist of taking part in the Anglo-Australian Telescope Planet Search program, looking for giant planets with the radial velocity method, and using data from the US Air Force/NASA SMEI mission to do a transit search for planets orbiting the brightest stars in the sky. It is intended to propose and participate in the SIM and TPF/Darwin missions.
3) Evaluation of the astrobiology of extrasolar planet space telescopes
Theoretical aspects of the astrobiology of Earth-like planets which are relevant to extrasolar planet missions will be addressed. These will include studies of possible atmospheres and of the effects of biological activity on such atmospheres.