Research Fellows Directory
Professor Don Pollacco Prof
University of Warwick
There have been two major instrumental developments this year. The first is the start of the operational phase of the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS). This facility was designed as the ultimate ground-based survey for exoplanet detection and is capable of detecting the largest rocky planets as well as ice giants etc. It delivers by far the most accurate star brightness measurements over a relatively large field of view. The instrument is based in Paranal, Chile, probably the best astronomical site in the world and runs in robotic mode (Warwick is responsible for the operation of the instrument and data reduction etc). Planet discovery requires extended observation periods and so the quality of the site is paramount.
Discovery involves more than just the transit detection, it also requires a mass measurement from a large telescope using a stabilized spectrograph. The first planet from NGTS is a massive gas giant around a star cooler and smaller than the sun. This was wholly unexpected as this type of system is extremely rare (there are 2 others known). Low mass stars are usually accompanied by low mass planets.
We have also announced the discovery from our other facility SuperWASP of 2 other important planets. WASP-127b which is an inflated Neptune mass object (in line with the aims of this proposal) and WASP-150b which seems to be one of the most bizarre planets known. This object has a mass of around five Jupiter masses but with a radius more typical of Neptune.
The second instrumental development was that of ESA’s PLATO mission. This is expected to be launched in 2025 and has the objective of discovering earth-sun analogue systems. I have been working on this mission for some eight years now and am the Science Coordinator for the project. For the last 2.5 years we have been defining the space craft and its mission (both in terms of its operations and expected science output) and the mission is now ready to be adopted and implemented.
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