The search for planetary systems orbiting around stars other than our Sun, and especially the quest for planets similar to our Earth, is one of the major scientific, technological and philosophical goals of our time. The theme of extrasolar planets has been recognized as a priority by all major research agencies (ESA, NASA, ESO) and integrated into their vision of their future developments in research programs.
The Astrophysicists team of the University of Geneva occupies a unique position in the community of active researchers on topics related to extrasolar planets. Since 1995, the Astronomy Department of UNIGE is recognized as the internationally dominant team in the field of detection and characterization of exoplanets. Nearly half of the known planets and the overwhelming majority of small planets like super-Earth has been identified by researchers from the Astronomy Department of UNIGE in recent years.
Today, more than 5,000 exoplanets orbiting around other stars have been identified. These findings generated an enormous enthusiasm among the public and younger generations who share the excitement and eagerness of researchers for this new field of research in astrophysics. This greatly helps to promote a positive image among the general public of the work done at the University of Geneva .
The group's activity, while building and strengthening activities set up in the past decade has grown and diversified. Working areas now include the detection and characterization of transiting planets including number of participations in space missions Corot/ESA, Kepler/NASA, the preparation of the PLATO/ESA mission, high-contrast imaging of substellar companions, and a wide and coherent development program of astronomical instruments (PRIMA, ESPRESSO, HARPS-NEF, SPHERE, EulerCam, HARPS-FP) .
Over the past five years this activity has resulted in over 100 publications including many "Firsts": the discovery of super-Earths population, highlighting the first rocky planet, the first super-Earth detected in the habitable zone, observation of the first planet in retrograde orbit , etc...
The main research themes of the group for the coming years are directed around large main areas:
- Detection and characterization of planets of all masses and in particular those located in the zone of intermediate masses between Earth and Neptune.
- Statistical analysis of observed characteristics to constrain models of planetary formation.
- Exploration and detection of terrestrial planets in the habitable zone around their stars.
- Study of the atmospheres of gaseous planets, from Neptunes to Jupiters.
To carry out these programs, many collaborations have been built and active participations are in place for the study phases of future major European research programs ("Cosmic Vision"/ESA and "E-ELT"/ESO).