Astrobiology & Exoplanetary Research

What is an Exoplanet?

An exoplanet is a planet which orbits a star outside of our solar system.  Astonishingly, there are at least 100 Billion of these alien worlds just in our Milky Way Galaxy.  The PLANETS Foundation’s goal is to gain a deeper understanding of exoplanets by creating maps and conducting new research with new ground-based telescope facilities able to find exolife.


A diagram depicting the Habitable Zone (HZ) boundaries, and how the boundaries are affected by star type (Source Wikipedia)

Habitable Zone

Our goal is to search nearby exoplanets which have been determined to be in the habitable zone of their host star.  The habitable zone is a widely debated topic but it is generally referred to as the area around a host star where an exoplanet would be able to host liquid water. We specifically target these exoplanets in hopes of mapping the exoplanets terrain or spotting stable atmospheric structures to predict the potential of exolife.


Low-Scattered Light

By using a low-scattered light telescope with the contrast enhancement techniques of coronagraphy and polarimetry, regions around extremely bright sources can be seen. This shows polarized light from a disk around a bright (7th mag) young star. The spatial scale of the disk in polarized light is around 300AU. A ring of low polarization (corresponding to less material) at 150AU is seen suggesting a proto-planet clearing a ring in the disk.


Our Solar System

MercuryPLANETS will provide significant tools for planetary science in our solar system. Though planetary missions with spacecraft are very useful to obtain new findings on solar system bodies, the spacecraft data are limited by instrumental constrains, mission lifetime, orbital motion, and instantaneous field-of-view. Complementary ground-based observations can probe atmospheric global region remotely and can provide long-term coverage. Such observations will help us to understand the changes happening in the solar system, including the Earth.

Low scattered-light capability with coronagraphy and high-resolution spectroscopy enables to visualize neutral atmosphere and plasmas escaping from icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn as well as Io that has active volcanoes. These observations have been difficult because of the presence of bright planetary disk that bothers observations of faint emission close to the mother body. Long-term monitoring from the ground will reveal activities and dynamics on and around the solar system body.

It is essential to carry out continuous measurement of planetary atmosphere, such as the Jovian infrared aurora and the volcanoes on Jovian satellite Io, to understand its time and spatial variations. A compact and easy-to-use high resolution infrared spectrometer provide the good opportunity to investigate these objects continuously. We are developing an Echelle spectrograph called ESPRIT (Echelle Spectrograph for Planetary Research In Tohoku university). Io-Volcanic-Plume - THe PLANETS FoundationThe main target of ESPRIT is to measure the Jovian H3+ fundamental line at 3.9 micron, and H2 nu=1 at 2.1 micron. This spectrograph is characterized by a long slit field-of-view of ~ 50 arcsec with a spectral resolution is over 20,000.

Observations of Mars and Venus atmospheres will be performed with PLANETS using ultra-high resolution spectroscopy with a spectral resolution of >1,000,000. It’s one of the most appropriate instrument to addresses (i) trace gases and its isotopes, and (2) dynamical/thermal structures in the upper atmosphere. Our observations reveal the planetary worlds of our solar system, and increase our knowledge what/how is habitable planetary environment and its evolution? PLANETS thereby expand the frontiers of the human race.


Our Research Papers Archive


2017 Papers

Surface Imaging of Proxima B and Other Exoplanets: Topography, Biosignatures, and Artificial Mega-Structures, Berdyugina, S.V., Kuhn, J.R.
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2016 Papers

Partially filled aperture interferometric telescopes: achieving large aperture and coronagraphic performance, Moretto, G., Kuhn, J.R., Berdyugina, S.V., Langlois, M., Tallona, M., Thiebaut, E., Halliday, D., SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation, 12 pp., in press (2016)
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Partially filled aperture interferometric telescopes: achieving large aperture and coronagraphic performance, Moretto, G., Kuhn, J.R., Berdyugina, S.V., Langlois, M., Tallona, M., Thiebaut, E., Halliday, D., SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation, 12 pp., in press (2016)
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Remote Sensing of Life: Polarimetric Signatures of Photosynthetic Pigments as New Biomarkers, Berdyugina, S.V., Kuhn, J.R., Harrington, D.M., Santl-Temkiv, T., Messersmith, E.J., International Journal of Astrobiology, 15, 45-56 (2016)
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2015 Papers

Global Warming as a Detectable Thermodynamic Marker of Earth-like Extrasolar Civilizations: The case for a Telescope like Colossus, Kuhn, J.R., Berdyugina, S.V., International Journal of Astrobiology, 14, 401-410 (2015)
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2014 Papers

Looking Beyond 30m-class Telescopes: The Colossus Project, Kuhn, J.R., Berdyugina, S.V., Langlois, M., Moretto, G., Harlingten, C., Halliday, D., SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation, 9145, id. 91451G 8 pp. (2014)
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Highly sensitive telescope designs for higher contrast observations, Moretto, G. and Kuhn, J.R., Adv. Opt. Techn. 3(3): 251-264 (2014)
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New strategies for an extremely large telescope dedicated to extremely high contrast: The Colossus Project, Moretto, G., Kuhn, J.R., Thiebaut, E., Langlois, M., Berdyugina, S.V., Harlingten, C., Halliday, D., SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation, 9145, id. 91451L 9 pp. (2014)
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2013 Papers

How to find ET with infrared light, Kuhn, J.R., Berdyugina, S.V., Halliday, D., Harlingten, C., Astronomy, June issue, pp. 30-35 (2013)
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