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Stellar occultations by solar system objects allow kilometric accuracy, permit the detection of tenuous atmospheres (at nbar level), and the discovery of rings. The main limitation was the prediction accuracy, typically 40 mas, corresponding to about 1,000 km projected at the body. This lead to large time dedicated to astrometry, tedious logistical issues, and more often than not, mere miss of the event. The Gaia catalog, with sub-mas accuracy, hugely improves both the star positions, resulting in achievable accuracies of about 1 mas for the shadow track on Earth. This permits much more carefully planned campaigns, with success rate approaching 100%, weather permitting. Scientific perspectives are presented, e.g. central flashes caused by Plutos atmosphere revealing hazes and winds near its surface, grazing occultations showing topographic features, occultations by Chariklos rings unveiling dynamical features such as proper mode “breathing”.
Stellar occultations are a unique technique to access physical characteristics of distant solar system objects from the ground. They allow the measure of the size and the shape at kilometric level, the detection of tenuous atmospheres (few nanobars), and the investigation of close vicinity (satellites, rings) of Transneptunian objects and Centaurs. This technique is made successful thanks to accurate predictions of occultations. Accuracy of the predictions depends on the uncertainty in the position of the occulted star and the object's orbit. The Gaia stellar catalogue (Gaia Collaboration (2017)) now allows to get accurate astrometric stellar positions (to the mas level). The main uncertainty remains on the orbit. In this context, we now take advantage of the NIMA method (Desmars et al.(2015)) for the orbit determination and of the Gaia DR1 catalogue for the astrometry. In this document, we show how the orbit determination is improved by reducing current and some past observations with Gaia DR1. Moreover, we also use more than 45 past positive occultations observed in the 2009-2017 period to derive very accurate astrometric positions only depending on the position of the occulted stars (about few mas with Gaia DR1). We use the case of (10199) Chariklo as an illustration. The main limitation lies in the imprecision of the proper motions which is going to be solved by the Gaia DR2 release.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
Peru and France are to conclude an agreement to provide Peru with an astronomical observatory equipped with a 60-cm diameter telescope. The principal aims of this project are to establish and develop research and teaching in astronomy. Since 2004, a team of researchers from Paris Observatory has been working with the University of Cusco (UNSAAC) on the educational, technical and financial aspects of implementing this venture. During an international astronomy conference in Cusco in July 2009, the foundation stone of the future Peruvian Observatory was laid at the top of Pachatusan Mountain. UNSAAC, represented by its Rector, together with the town of Oropesa and the Cusco regional authority, undertook to make the sum of 300,000€ available to the project. An agreement between Paris Observatory and UNSAAC now enables Peruvian students to study astronomy through online teaching.
Pluto’s tenuous nitrogen atmosphere was detected by stellar occultations in 1985 and 1988. This atmosphere is poorly known, however, due to the rarity of these events. We report here the first Pluto occultations observed since 1988, on 20 July and 21 August 2002. Our analysis reveals drastic changes undergone by the atmosphere since 1988, namely a two-fold pressure increase, the probable effect of seasonal changes on Pluto over this fourteen year interval.
We briefly review recent advances in the observation and study of planetary bodies in extra-solar systems. We summarize in particular the main physical properties of the β-Pictoris dust disk, and the status of new disk observations. Theoretical implications of infalling discrete bodies are considered, in particular, the existence of possible perturbing planet(s) causing this influx. Such planets could spectacularly disturb circumstellar dust disks, thus revealing themselves in spite of their intrinsic faintness as mere point sources. Finally, we describe the recent possible discovery of at least two planets around a pulsar. This underlines the potential existence of planets in rather exotic circumstances.
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