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The discovery of extrasolar planets is arguably the most exciting development in astrophysics during the past 15 years, rivalled only by the detection of dark energy. Two projects are now at the intersection of the two communities of exoplanet scientists and cosmologists: EUCLID, proposed as an ESA M-class mission; and WFIRST, the top-ranked large space mission for the next decade by the Astro 2010 Decadal Survey report. The missions are to have several important science programs: a dark energy survey using weak lensing, baryon acoustic oscillations, Type Ia supernova, a survey of exoplanetary architectures using microlensing, and different surveys. The WFIRST and EUCLID microlensing planet search programs will provide a statistical census of exoplanets with masses greater than the mass of Mars and orbital separations ranging from 0.5 AU outwards, including free-floating planets. This will include analogs of all Solar System planets except for Mercury, as well as most types of planets predicted by planet formation theories. In combination with Kepler's census of planets in shorter period orbits, EUCLID and WFIRST's planet search programs will provide a complete statistical census of the planets that populate our Galaxy. As of today, EUCLID is proposed to ESA as a M class mission (the result of the selection will be known in october 2011). We are presenting here preliminary results about the expected planet yields. WFIRST has just appointed a Science Definition Team.
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.
The increasing number of transiting planets raises the possibility of finding changes in their transit time, duration and depth that could be indicative of further planets in the system. Experience from eclipsing binaries indeed shows that such changes may be expected. A first obvious candidate to look for a perturbing planet is GJ 436, which hosts a hot transiting Neptune-mass planet in an eccentric orbit. Ribas et al. (2008) suggested that such eccentricity and a possible change in the orbital inclination might be due to a perturbing small planet in a close-in orbit. A radial velocity signal of a 5 M⊕ planet close to the 2:1 mean-motion resonance seemed to provide the perfect candidate. Recent new radial velocities have deemed such signal spurious. Here we put all the available information in context and we evaluate the possibility of a small perturber to GJ 436 b to explain its eccentricity and possible inclination change. In particular, we discuss the constraints provided by the transit time variation data. We conclude that, given the current data, the close-in perturber scenario still offers a plausible explanation to the observed orbital and physical properties of GJ 436 b.
We have now entered a phase of extrasolar planets characterization: probing their atmospheres for molecules, constraining their horizontal and vertical temperature profiles and estimating the contribution of clouds and hazes. We review here the current situation with ground-based and space-based observations, and present the transmission spectra of HD189733b in the spectral range 0.5-24 microns.
Using observations obtained in the pilot campaign of the EROS-2 microlensing survey we observed 290 Cepheids towards the LMC and 590 Cepheids towards the SMC. We present the constraints they give to stellar pulsation theory. We detect a statistically significant break in the slope of the period–luminosity relation for SMC fundamental mode Cepheids with periods shorter than 2 d and discuss its origin.
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