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The Observer

Editorial

Editorial

Dear Reader, President Kennedy in his famous speech about the US effort to reach the Moon delivered in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962 said “…We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies […]

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Switzerland in Space

Switzerland in Space

From the Bernese solar-wind experiment on Apollo 11 to space research in Switzerland as a member of the European Space Agency ESA – the development up to the first long-term space research programme ‘Horizon 2000’. By Martin C.E. Huber The Bernese experiment, which Buzz Aldrin planted into the solar wind after he and astronaut colleague […]

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A prize for outstanding achievements

A prize for outstanding achievements

The astronomer Monika Lendl has won the Look! business award for the Austrian woman of the year in STEM (Science, technology, engineering & maths). Monika Lendl is member of PlanetS and works as senior researcher at The University of Geneva. This year’s Austrian woman of the year in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, nominated […]

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“We will need large space missions”

“We will need large space missions”

Sascha Quanz was appointed the new professor of Exoplanets and Habitability at ETH Zurich on 1 June 2019. “I’m delighted that we can now move ahead with renewed vigour, also within PlanetS,” says Sascha Quanz, who is now also a member of the Executive Board of the National Centre of Competence in Research. PlanetS: You have […]

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Discover exoplanets while playing

Discover exoplanets while playing

Two years ago, the Icelandic company CCP, which markets and operates the EveOnline galactic conquest game, launched the “project discovery”, a concept of citizen science included in the game. Using the star light curves taken by the European CoRoT satellite (COnvection, ROtation et Transits), the goal was to try to discover periodic decreases in the […]

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When science meets fiction

When science meets fiction

The NCCR PlanetS has been participating to several public events since its creation. Amongst them, there is one which has been recurrent, and this year was no exception… It is not the most obvious one to go to, but over the years, it has established itself as a landmark as it has always been a […]

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Highlights of recent research results

Highlights of recent research results

Recently, PlanetS researchers published papers about stolen comets, a forbidden planet, meteorites from Vesta, and Rare-Earth metals in the atmosphere of a glowing-hot exoplanet. The video based on computer simulations demonstrates what happens if two young stars in a cluster undergo a close encounter. Each star has a belt of so-called planetesimals, the building blocks […]

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Editorial

Editorial

Dear Readers, Time flies! When you receive this edition of the Observer, PlanetS will already be nearing the end of its five year of existence! Not even a blink of an eye on astronomical timescales and yet our science and therefore our activities have evolved enormously. With improving astronomical instrumentation, the focus of attention shifts […]

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“This is a gigantic project even for ESO”

“This is a gigantic project even for ESO”

Xavier Barcons is Director General of the European Southern Observatory ESO. Last week he travelled to Switzerland for the ESO Council Meeting that took place in Bern. ESO is currently building the Extremely Large Telescope ELT. With a mirror diameter of 39 meters the ELT will be the world’s largest optical/near-infrared telescope. NCCR PlanetS: What […]

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A golden age for planetary scientists

A golden age for planetary scientists

The NCCR PlanetS is now in its second four-year-long phase. 122 members and associates gathered at the end of January 2019 to review what they have achieved and discuss new research projects. Research initiatives such as PlanetS are temporary projects. The Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF funds National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) for […]

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Examining the atmospheres and climate of exoplanets

Examining the atmospheres and climate of exoplanets

After being able to measure the masses and the diameters of exoplanets, using the information to deduce what materials they have formed from, astronomers now seek to detect the chemical composition of their atmospheres if they possess one. For several years, atmosphere detection announcements have been in the news before being questioned and recently proven. […]

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A new teacher at PlanetS

A new teacher at PlanetS

Emeline Bolmont has just been appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Geneva, a position funded by PlanetS. Originally from Toul near Nancy in north-eastern France, the new professor was introduced to astronomy at a very early age by her parents who occasionally went to observe the sky on a […]

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Neural networks predict planet mass

Neural networks predict planet mass

To find out how planets form, astrophysicists run complicated and time consuming computer calculations. Members of the NCCR PlanetS in Bern have now developed a totally novel approach to speed up this process dramatically. They use deep learning based on artificial neural networks, a method that is well known in image recognition. Planets grow in […]

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Astronomy Outreach Like A Rocket

Astronomy Outreach Like A Rocket

For the fifth time already, the public and free science slam “Astronomy on Tap” took place at “ONO Kulturlokal” in Bern. On the occasion of the “United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science” and the “IAU100 Women & Girls in Astronomy Day” on 11 February 2019, four female space scientists spoke about […]

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Insights from the moon to the exoplanets

Insights from the moon to the exoplanets

In the anniversary year of the moon landing of Apollo 11 there are exciting things to discover. The University of Berne will be celebrating a science festival together with the public from 27 to 30 June 2019. The Swiss National Library in Berne is showing a transport container for the Apollo solar wind experiment. And […]

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Editorial

Editorial

Dear Reader, Yes! BepiColombo started on October 20 its seven-year journey to planet Mercury. After considerable technical difficulties and years of delay, the ESA satellite was successfully launched on an Ariane 5 from Kourou in French Guyana. Going to Mercury is just not easy. Being much closer to the sun than the Earth, a spacecraft […]

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BELA – The Bern altimeter’s launch to Mercury

BELA – The Bern altimeter’s launch to Mercury

BepiColombo blasted off to investigate Mercury. Nicolas Thomas, Co-Principal Investigator of the instrument BELA and Director of the Physics Institute of the University of Bern, experienced the launch first hand. Here are his impressions. By Nicolas Thomas On the way BepiColombo will launch from Kourou in the morning (European time) of October 20 2018. Having […]

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Forming Mercury by Giant Impacts

Forming Mercury by Giant Impacts

The smallest planet in our Solar System has a large iron core. How come? According to the most popular theory, Mercury lost big parts of its rocky mantle in a collision. Alice Chau and her colleagues at the University of Zürich simulated different scenarios with a super computer. Their result: Forming Mercury by giant impacts […]

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Connected to space

Connected to space

After a long tour through Europe, the CHEOPS satellite is back at Airbus Defence and Space Spain in Madrid. On its journey, it had to pass thermal-vacuum tests at Airbus facilities in Toulouse, mechanical vibration tests at RUAG Space in Zürich, and acoustic noise and electromagnetic compatibility tests at ESA’s technical centre in The Netherlands. […]

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How the moons of Jupiter were formed

How the moons of Jupiter were formed

When astrophysicists of the NCCR PlanetS at the University of Zürich analyzed their computer simulations they were amazed: The formation of the moons of Jupiter happened much faster and later than previously believed. The researchers also found out that the satellites we see today are likely not the only moons that formed around the planet, […]

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Observatories in “impossible” places

Observatories in “impossible” places

By Timm Riesen Mountains are impregnable Even as late as in the middle of the 19th century people believed that the high peaks in the Alps were impregnable. Many a myth and legend were woven around the topic of these mountain peaks far off in the clouds. Slowly, with the successful first ascents of the […]

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Broaden your horizons

Broaden your horizons

It was a year ago when in November the « Elargis Tes Horizons » Foundation organized with the University of Geneva a meeting between researchers from the Faculty of Science and about 500 young girls between 12 and 15 years old. The purpose of the foundation is to show girls that scientific research is within everyone’s reach. […]

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Editorial

Editorial

Dear Reader, Transition – a word one hears often during a world soccer cup. It means bringing the ball forward through the middle field closer to the opponent’s goal. A critical moment in the game during which a generally pre-defined strategy is being executed with the hope to eventually score. It turns out that at […]

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Children’s drawings ready for space

Children’s drawings ready for space

Together with the CHEOPS space telescope 2748 miniaturized drawings will fly into space in the first half of 2019. The video shows how physicist Guido Bucher produced the plaques with the drawings at Berner Fachhochschule in Burgdorf. More about CHEOPS and the children’s drawings campaign: http://cheops.unibe.ch

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A peregrine falcon in the underwater palace

A peregrine falcon in the underwater palace

The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 has reached the asteroid Ryugu. Hayabusa means peregrine falcon in Japanese, Ryugu is the name of the dragon god’s underwater palace. The mission’s scientific team includes PlanetS researchers. Martin Jutzi calculates what happens when an impactor knocks out an artificial crater on the asteroid. Henner Busemann hopes to be able […]

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Fabrication of NIRPS

Fabrication of NIRPS

The Workshop Mechanical workshop of the astronomy department of the University of Geneva: It is in this workshop that some of the components of NIRPS (Near InfraRed Planet Searcher) are manufactured, assembled and integrated into the instrument. The Geneva Observatory is responsible for the construction and installation of the NIRPS front end, which is a subsystem […]

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Great enthusiasm for small stars

Great enthusiasm for small stars

TRAPPIST-1 is the name of the star around which seven planets and many current research projects revolve. Cool dwarf stars are the new favourites when searching for earth-like, life-friendly planets out in space. PlanetS teams are among the world leaders in this field of research. Brice-Olivier Demory is enthusiastic, “with our expertise here at the […]

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Highlights of PlanetS news

Highlights of PlanetS news

From astounding images of Mars and cosmic ravioli near Saturn to distant worlds that might look similar or very different to planets in our solar system – the researchers of PlanetS keep coming up with surprising news that are published worldwide. Objects shaped like ravioli and spaetzle puzzled the readers of science news. How come […]

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Artificial Intelligence joins Astrobiology

Artificial Intelligence joins Astrobiology

Tackling humanity’s biggest challenges with Artificial Intelligence: Uni Bern scientist at NASA’s Frontier Development Lab For the third time since 2016 machine learning experts and space scientists will spend the summer in Silicon Valley to work on some of NASA’s most important present day challenges. The 8 week long program – NASA frontier development lab […]

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An important milestone

An important milestone

Dear Reader, In October 2012, CHEOPS was selected as the first small mission in ESA’s science programme. This week, 65 months of intense work later, we are essentially ready to ship the telescope to Airbus Defense and Space in Madrid to be integrated onto the platform for a launch from Kourou in French Guyana in […]

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CHEOPS leaves the University of Bern

CHEOPS leaves the University of Bern

Construction of the space telescope CHEOPS is finished. The engineers from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern will package the instrument this week and send it to Madrid, where it will be integrated on the satellite platform. CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) is to be ready to launch in early […]

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“We have to meet hundreds of requirements”

“We have to meet hundreds of requirements”

Christopher Broeg is project manager of the CHEOPS mission. A consortium of more than 100 scientists and engineers in eleven European countries is involved in the mission. At the University of Bern, Christopher Broeg and a team consisting of 15 members have developed, assembled and tested the space telescope over the past five years. The […]

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TESS ready for take-off

TESS ready for take-off

NASA plans to launch a new exoplanet satellite called TESS on 16 April 2018. It is expected to discover thousands of exoplanets around nearby bright stars. Members of the NCCR PlanetS are involved in the NASA project and synergies are expected between TESS and CHEOPS, the space mission under co-leadership between Switzerland and ESA. Like […]

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The “La Recherche” prize to Christophe Lovis

The “La Recherche” prize to Christophe Lovis

Christophe Lovis, a member of NCCR PlanetS at the University of Geneva, received the “La Recherche” prize at the beginning of this year, awarded by the prestigious French magazine of the same name and aimed at the general public. In an article published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophisycs Christophe Lovis and his colleagues demonstrated […]

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Thirsty for Space Science

Thirsty for Space Science

Worldwide Science Slam series «Astronomy on Tap» lands in Bern If talking about astronomy and space science over drinks in a bar sounds like fun to you, you better save these space-time coordinates: April 30th at ONO in Bern. Come to the very first Astronomy on Tap, Bern event to listen to various talks, from […]

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Water during planet formation and evolution

Water during planet formation and evolution

This last February the workshop ‘Water during planet formation and evolution’ took place at the University of Zurich. Grown out of an initiative from junior researchers across the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and University of Bern, more than 60 international scholars gathered to discuss the crucial role of water on planets in the solar system […]

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Perseverance and dedication

Perseverance and dedication

Dear Reader, In this edition of the Observer, you will read among other about the history of CHEOPS, the tribulations leading to the first light of ESPRESSO, and about the legacy of the Cassini mission. These stories illustrate that great projects are made possible by perseverance and dedication. What appears simple and evident after the […]

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First light of ESPRESSO

First light of ESPRESSO

The new ultra-high resolution spectrograph developed by a consortium led by Francesco Pepe professor at the Department of Astronomy of the Geneva University and member of PlanetS observed its first star successfully. Installed at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) site in Chile, ESPRESSO will look for tiny changes in the speed of stars, sign of […]

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“I’m like the oil in the engine”

“I’m like the oil in the engine”

The Council of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has elected Willy Benz, Professor at the University of Bern, as its next president. The Council, which is composed of the delegates from the ESO member states, is the organisation’s ruling body and makes strategic decisions on its behalf. PlanetS: What will your role as president of […]

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Astronomy in your wallet

Astronomy in your wallet

There is a good chance that you are carrying 51 Pegasi around with you. The name of the star, around which the Geneva astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discovered a planet in 1995, is on the new Swiss 20 franc banknote. In addition, there is a ten-digit number – an example of Swiss banking […]

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A visit of the ice lab

A visit of the ice lab

What do the images of Mars, Comet Chury or other celestial bodies really show? For a reliable answer researchers at the University Bern study the optical properties of dust-ice mixtures that are analogs of planetary or cometary surfaces. Have a look at their laboratory.

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Building planets as sandcastles

Building planets as sandcastles

Planetary formation starts with small dust grains in disks surrounding young stars. But dust growth is hindered by collisional fragmentation and radial drift. So, how are the larger planetesimals, the building blocks of planets, formed? This is still an open question. Now, scientists of PlanetS have found a mechanism bridging the gap between the early […]

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New insights into the Earth’s formation

New insights into the Earth’s formation

Meteorites contain far less chlorine, bromine and iodine than previously thought. This was the finding from new measurements carried out by a team of international researchers. The new result allows some interesting conclusions to be drawn about the Earth’s formation: there were phases with an abundance of volatile elements on the Earth’s surface right from […]

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The history of CHEOPS

The history of CHEOPS

Engineers at the University of Bern are developing the CHEOPS space telescope. From Earth´s orbit, this telescope is supposed to measure the diameter of exoplanets which are light-years away from us and pass in front of their host star. Swiss astronomers had the idea for CHEOPS back in 2008. Willy Benz, professor at the Physics […]

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Fairing sticker competition

Fairing sticker competition

Are you a student of graphic art or design or an early career graphic artist or designer? Then, you might be interested in participating in a competition organised by the European Space Agency ESA. The winner will get the unique opportunity to feature his or her work on the rocket carrying the CHEOPS satellite into […]

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Cassini – the big dive

Cassini – the big dive

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini probe completed its last orbit around Saturn before diving into its atmosphere. A touching end to the mission for the team of planetary scientists, engineers and other researchers who have been following the spacecraft’s feats since its launch 20 years ago. “If we let the spacecraft indefinitely orbit Saturn, […]

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ESPRESSO

ESPRESSO

Dear Reader, As you will read in this edition of the Observer, we have said good-bye to ESPRESSO which is now on its way to the ESO Paranal Observatory near Antofagasta in Chile where it will be integrated into the VLT later this year. ESPRESSO, the development of which was led by Francesco Pepe from […]

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Chasing alien worlds with a flying telescope

Chasing alien worlds with a flying telescope

The airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) observed a mini-eclipse of the extrasolar planet GJ 1214b. The goal was to find out if this world outside of our solar system is a super-sized Earth or a miniature Neptune. It was the first time SOFIA did observations of this kind and it was demonstrated that […]

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CHEOPS children drawings engraved

CHEOPS children drawings engraved

Our campaign to collect CHEOPS children drawings is completing a major milestone as the first plaques have been engraved. The article tells the story of their production and illustrates the beautiful results. Between March and October 2015, children between the age of 8 and 14 were invited to participate in a competition and submit a […]

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Collision with neighbour

Collision with neighbour

According to theory, the moon was created during a gigantic collision between the earth and another celestial body called Theia. But where did this body come from? Based on high-precision analysis of lunar samples, ETH professor Maria Schönbächler concludes, “Theia was a small planet that formed near the earth.” Maria Schönbächler and her team at […]

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How to operate the Mars camera CaSSIS

How to operate the Mars camera CaSSIS

The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) was built at the University of Bern. As part of ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) it has been orbiting Mars since October 2016 and took some first high resolution images. The normal operation will start next year when TGO has reached its final orbit. Then, the spacecraft […]

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Bye-bye ESPRESSO

Bye-bye ESPRESSO

After almost 10 years of studies, construction, problems, efforts and sleepless nights, the ESPRESSO spectrograph left at the end of August the clean room of the Geneva Observatory to be installed on the 4 VLTs of the ESO Observatory at Paranal in northern Chile. A journey that has turned into a real saga. The problem […]

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Revival of a cancelled space mission?

Revival of a cancelled space mission?

The characterization of habitable or even inhabited exoplanets is one of the ultimate goals of modern astrophysics. Reviving the concept of a space mission that was cancelled ten years ago would be most promising. This is the conclusion of a paper by PlanetS scientists Jens Kammerer and Sascha Quanz of ETH Zürich. Their simulations show […]

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Bern’s journey into space

Bern’s journey into space

From a historic Zenit rocket and the famous Apollo solar wind experiment to the Mars camera CaSSIS and the CHEOPS space telescope: Many of the 9000 visitors of the event «Nacht der Forschung» on 16 September 2017 at the University of Bern had a look at 50 years of space research. «We have carried the […]

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Pioneer in astrochemistry

Pioneer in astrochemistry

«Building stars, planets and the ingredients for life in space» is the title of a public lecture by the renowned Dutch astronomer Ewine van Dishoeck on 20 October 2017 at the University of Bern. «Ewine van Dishoeck is one of the pioneers in astrochemistry and a driving force behind the groundbreaking ALMA observatory,» says Kevin […]

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Stellarium Gornergrat

Stellarium Gornergrat

Dear Reader, In a previous writing, I have already stressed the commitment by PlanetS to education and outreach and mentioned a few of our activities (exhibits, planetarium show, etc.) inviting you to check them out by yourself. Today, I am particularly proud to introduce to you the latest project, the Stellarium Gornergrat. After several years […]

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The Stellarium Gornergrat officially starts operations for schools

The Stellarium Gornergrat officially starts operations for schools

The Center for Space and Habitability at the University of Bern (CSH), the University of Geneva (UNIGE), and their partners built and configured a remote-controllable telescope facility at the Gornergrat. Its primary use is dedicated to education and outreach and its dedicated pedagogical portal just became operational. This way, schools all over Switzerland get access […]

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Assembling the flight model

Assembling the flight model

After the engineers at the University of Bern integrated and tested models of the CHEOPS space telescope, they are now working on the hardware that will actually be sent into space. In the clean room especially built for CHEOPS they are assembling the flight model of the instrument. «We are proceeding well,» says Willy Benz, […]

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First light in lab for SPIRou

First light in lab for SPIRou

SPIRou is a near infra red instrument mainly designed to detect exoplanets by measuring radial velocities of M dwarf stars and to study star and planet formation measuring the magnetic fields of these objects. It is led by France with participation of members of PlanetS. SPIRou (Spectro Polarimètre Infra Rouge) is a near infra red […]

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Balancing work and life

Balancing work and life

Ravit Helled is professor at the University of Zürich and Leader of the Academic Platform at the NCCR PlanetS. Find out more about her life as a scientist and mother by clicking on the small magnifying glasses that you see on the rectangular areas on the image of her office. To go back to the […]

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Astronauts visit the Geneva Observatory

Astronauts visit the Geneva Observatory

There are only 550 in the world who, having carried out at least one orbit around the Earth, have the right to wear the title of “astronaut”. The majority of them are Americans and Russians, only 49 are Europeans. Of these 49, twelve of them traveled to Geneva to visit the astronomical observatory of the […]

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PlanetS at Fantasy Basel

PlanetS at Fantasy Basel

They were more than 40,000 fanatics of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings rushing at the gates of the Basel Messe for the 2017 edition of the Fantasy Basel, the biggest convention of its kind in Europe. The 45’000 m2 of Halle 2 of the Messe hosted for three […]

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Curiosity driven research

Curiosity driven research

Dear Reader, „Basic research is incredibly important” states Thomas Zurbuchen the new NASA Associate Administrator for the science Mission Directorate during his lecture at the University of Bern. Obviously, for us at PlanetS this was sweet music to our ears… Curiosity driven research (another expression for basic research) strives at understanding the world that surrounds […]

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Dreams of another world

Dreams of another world

The discovery of seven earth-like planets around an ultracool star made headlines worldwide. How does the so called TRAPPIST-1 system look like? This question was answered by scientists and a science fiction writer during an event at the University of Bern organized by the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) and the NCCR PlanetS. «Exoplanet […]

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A new era for planetology

A new era for planetology

Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is complete. It still has to undergo a battery of tests before its launch end 2018. The capacities of this instrument in the field of planetology are such that several astronomers of PlanetS are already planning time demands. “We can break through the clouds and analyze the […]

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«Basic research is incredibly important»

«Basic research is incredibly important»

As NASA’s new science director, Thomas Zurbuchen announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets around the nearby star TRAPPIST-1 at a live-streamed press conference that was followed worldwide at the end of February. A month earlier, the Swiss born physicist had visited the University of Bern where he had studied and gained his PhD. «I […]

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Sunbathing meteoroids

Sunbathing meteoroids

Just as you can tell where your friend spent his holidays based on the tan of his skin, scientists can tell where and for how long meteorites travelled in space. Like your friend, meteorites have been exposed to solar radiation which have left peculiar imprints on their outer layer. Together with colleagues, Antoine Roth, postdoc […]

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One of «30 under 30»

One of «30 under 30»

The American business magazine Forbes is famous for its annual ranking lists of young influential people in different categories. Among the hot-shot collection of 30 young European scientists in 2017 is Judit Szulágyi, postdoctoral fellow of ETH Zürich and member of PlanetS – the only astrophysicist on the list. The video shows who she is […]

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How to build a space telescope

How to build a space telescope

In the next months, engineers at the University of Bern will assemble the CHEOPS space telescope integrating parts arriving from all over Europe. CHEOPS, the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, is dedicated to study planets orbiting stars outside of our Solar System. Before building the flight model, the team used a structural model for testing which had […]

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Exoplanetary Atmospheres

Exoplanetary Atmospheres

«Studying and understanding the atmospheres of exoplanets is an indispensable step on the path towards addressing one of the oldest questions posed by humanity: Are we alone?» writes Kevin Heng, Director of the Center for Space and Habitability of the University of Bern and member of PlanetS. In his new textbook on the theory of […]

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The crucial role of water

The crucial role of water

Water is one of the key molecules in shaping the history and present day of our planet Earth and is crucially important for many physical, chemical and biological processes during abiogenesis, the process to transform lifeless matter into the flourishing and astounding environment we experience today. For instance, the amount of water ice was crucial […]

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The sky above Cerro Paranal

The sky above Cerro Paranal

For two years, astronomer Henning Avenhaus has worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in Santiago, Chile, studying protoplanetary disks and planet formation. During this time, he several times had the opportunity to work at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal. But besides sitting in the control room in front of the computer screen […]

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Michel Mayor, video game character

Michel Mayor, video game character

The Icelandic firm CCP teamed up with Michel Mayor, renowned exoplanet astronomer and honorary professor at the University of Geneva, to launch the new version of  EVE Online, a video game aiming to bring together science and entertainment. The objective: by manipulating real scientific data, tens of thousands of players think of conquering the galaxy, […]

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Education and outreach

Education and outreach

Dear Reader, Many of you probably remember some privileged moments in your youth when you had a special encounter with science and perhaps thought, be it only for a short moment, that this could be something fun to do in life. Hard to predict what triggers these moments, perhaps reading a book, visiting a museum, […]

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Study and play with real data

Study and play with real data

What’s more motivating for a student than to participate in research and perhaps make a real discovery. This is what the University of Geneva proposes in its MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on exoplanets, a MOOC which at its first broadcast in 2015 met a huge success as more than 20’000 people attended this course […]

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«Our telescope in Mexico is really filling a gap»

«Our telescope in Mexico is really filling a gap»

Brice-Olivier Demory is looking for earth-sized, potentially habitable exoplanets. Part of his research strategy is building a telescope in Mexico. Since August 2016, the 36 year old astronomer has been professor at the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) of the University of Bern. His professorship is sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). […]

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New space exhibition and planetarium show

New space exhibition and planetarium show

On 24 November 2016, the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne opened the new space exhibition. A few days later, the planetarium show «Out there» celebrated first worldwide premiere. Both the exhibition and the show have been made possible thanks to the support of NCCR PlanetS. Among the speakers at the opening of the new […]

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Spectacular images of Mars

Spectacular images of Mars

«We saw Hebes Chasma at 2.8 metres per pixel. That’s a bit like flying over Bern at 15’000 kilometres per hour and simultaneously getting sharp pictures of cars in Zurich,» says Nicolas Thomas, principal investigator of the Mars camera CaSSIS and Director of the Physics Institute at the University of Bern. The Bernese instrument made […]

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Research highlights

Research highlights

In modern astronomy researchers not only observe celestial objects, but also build them in computers and follow their evolution over time. These simulations reveal exciting new insights that – of course – have to be validated by observations. In the last few weeks, members of PlanetS published new results about comets, giant planets and earth-sized […]

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Observing in La Silla logbook

Observing in La Silla logbook

The cliché of the astronomer spending all his/her time the eye behind his/her telescope, looking to the sky, is outdated. Most of the life of the current astronomer is spent behind the screen of a computer. However there are still times where he/she goes to observe, in some remote place like La Silla observatory in […]

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Space Trip on the Gornergrat

Space Trip on the Gornergrat

This October, the Stellarium Gornergrat launched two special weeks called “Space Trip” for hotel guests on site. Being a new format, we awaited the premiere with great expectations and were not disappointed. By Timm Riesen During the Space Trip weeks, hotel guests were offered one or two activities every day, introducing them to the night […]

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FOUR ACES wins ERC grant

FOUR ACES wins ERC grant

On Thursday 17 November the European Research Council (ERC) announced to David Ehrenreich, leader of NCCR PlanetS sub-project 3.2 in Geneva, that his project submitted in February 2016 would be funded by a Consolidator grant. This grant is awarded by the ERC to researchers who have between 7 and 12 years of experience and it […]

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Proxima Centauri b

Proxima Centauri b

Dear Reader, The discovery of Proxima Centauri b is nothing short of extraordinary: A planet with a mass that appears similar to that of the Earth is orbiting in the habitable zone of our nearest star! We could not have hoped for anything better! The star is sufficiently close that within the next decade instruments […]

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“It was the most exciting mission”

“It was the most exciting mission”

On Friday 30 September 2016 the European spacecraft Rosetta will crash into the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Aboard the Rosetta spacecraft is the instrument ROSINA, which was developed by Physics Professor Kathrin Altwegg and her team at the University of Bern. PlanetS: You will lose an instrument that you have grown very fond of – it has […]

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Amazing Images of Jupiter

Amazing Images of Jupiter

According to Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio the  north pole of Jupiter looks like nothing seen or imagined before.  It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. Clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude […]

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Arriving at Mars

Arriving at Mars

On 19 October 2016, the spacecraft Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) of the European ExoMars mission will manoeuvre into Mars orbit. On board is a camera built at the University of Bern, the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System CaSSIS. In the video Principal Investigator Nicolas Thomas explains what will happen after the arrival at Mars. […]

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Swiss Government in the Clean Room

Swiss Government in the Clean Room

To kick of their annual “school trip” in summer 2016 all seven members of the Swiss Federal Council visited the University of Bern. The professors Willy Benz, Kathrin Altwegg and Nicolas Thomas presented their space projects: the space telescope CHEOPS, the Rosetta spectrometer ROSINA-RTOF and the mars camera CaSSIS. For entering the CHEOPS laboratory the […]

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Test of the CHEOPS CCD

Test of the CHEOPS CCD

This interactive page describes the different elements of the optical bench to test and calibrate the entire optics of the CHEOPS space telescope including the CCD detector. The photo was taken in the clean room of the Physics Institute of the University of Bern and the diagram shows the optical path of the installation. To […]

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The sky is full of moons

The sky is full of moons

On the 5th of September 2016, the Minor Planet Center reported that a small moon is in orbit around asteroid (6016) 1991 PA11. This newly discovered companion is actually just one of many such objects. By Adrien Coffinet The Moon, with a capital “M”, has since long ago been known to orbit the Earth. However, we had […]

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Prepare for Lift-Off with the Space Transformer

Prepare for Lift-Off with the Space Transformer

On 24 November 2016 the completely redesigned permanent space exhibition at the Museum of Transport in Switzerland will open its doors to the public. “Space – The Exhibition” is designed so that visitors can experience a predetermined course through various areas and adventure experiences relating to the theme Space and Space Exploration. The exhibition was developed […]

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Reporting on our activities

Reporting on our activities

Dear Reader, The beginning of the presentations of our activities to the international expert panel and Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) representatives marks the end of a year-long preparation process. While PlanetS enjoys significant freedom in its organisation and priority setting, reporting on our activities is an essential element in our yearly cycle. This takes the […]

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ESPRESSO

ESPRESSO

ESPRESSO, the new very high-resolution spectrometer built under the direction of the Astronomy Department of the University of Geneva, is in its integration phase in the new observatory building clean room, inaugurated on 27th June. Take a virtual visit.

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How planetary age reveals water content

How planetary age reveals water content

Water is necessary for life as we know it, but too much water is bad for habitability. Therefore, to study the habitability of extrasolar planets, determining the abundance of water is a key element. Yann Alibert, Science Officer of PlanetS, shows that the observation of exoplanets at different ages can be used to set statistical […]

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The Universe from a Child’s Perspective

The Universe from a Child’s Perspective

“The Universe provides ample scope to use one’s own imagination,” says Anna Lehninger.   The art historian investigates children’s drawings as a cultural asset and has had a look at the pictures resulting from the drawing campaign carried out in association with the CHEOPS mission. In early 2018, 3000 drawings will be sent with the CHEOPS […]

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Top Marks for PlanetS

Top Marks for PlanetS

Once a year renowned experts evaluate the scientific quality and the progress made in every Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR).  After a two-day exam at the end of May at the Geneva Observatory the review panel was highly impressed by the activities of the NCCR PlanetS. The yearly site visit of the […]

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Looking for our interstellar roots

Looking for our interstellar roots

Maria Drozdovskaya wants to know what our „astrochemical ancestral tree“ looks like. The incoming Fellow of the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern has just won a prestigious award that she will bring to her new host institution: The Gruber Foundation (TGF) Fellowship. It is one of the oldest and […]

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PlanetS in the Shopping Mall

PlanetS in the Shopping Mall

As soon as the pillar about exoplanets has been set up in the lobby of the planetarium of the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, people are gathering. They want to know what there is to see. They are especially attracted by the rotating planet on top of the pillar. Around the planet there is […]

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Purely for exoplanet science

Purely for exoplanet science

Next week, about 240 scientists from Europe and the US will gather in Davos to present and discuss all aspects of exoplanet science from observations to characterisation and theory. The conference “Exoplanets I” is organized by Kevin Heng, director of the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern and a subproject […]

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Open house day

Open house day

On the occasion of the inauguration of its new building, the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Geneva invites you to an open house on 2nd July 2016. You will be able to visit the new clean room in which the Observatory is building a high-resolution spectrograph measuring the mass of planets identical to ours. […]

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NCCR PlanetS

NCCR PlanetS

Dear Reader, The year 2016 barely began when the claim was made that there is evidence for a yet undiscovered planet (Planet 9) within our solar system. You would think that nothing could stir more the astronomy community and the general public…. But here comes the direct detection of gravitational waves and the excitement reaches […]

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Swiss camera flies to Mars

Swiss camera flies to Mars

On 14 March 2016, a new Mars mission will be launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Aboard the European spacecraft is a camera built at the University of Bern – in a record time as team leader Nicolas Thomas explains. Originally, the team in Bern was selected by NASA to provide a Swiss-built telescope for an […]

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Focus on Planet Nine

Focus on Planet Nine

Members of PlanetS have joined the worldwide race to spot the alleged ninth major object in the outer Solar System. Researchers at the University of Bern study the evolution of such a planet and estimate its visible magnitude. “And if PlanetS also gets into the search of the 9th planet” enthusiastically exclaims Stéphane Udry , […]

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Looking for life elsewhere

Looking for life elsewhere

How do we define what “habitable” means on another planet and how do we look for life elsewhere in the Universe? These are questions the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern wants to answer. Its new director Kevin Heng is an expert in the atmospheres of exoplanets and also leader […]

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Find out more about alien worlds

Find out more about alien worlds

They regularly appear in the news: exoplanets. But what exactly are they? And what do they have to do with Switzerland? With special information pillars, which are set up at various locations in Switzerland, the scientists of the NCCR PlanetS want to show to the general public that they are a leading organisation worldwide dedicated to […]

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Last call for “Exoplanètes”

Last call for “Exoplanètes”

The exhibition “Exoplanètes” of the Geneva Museum of Natural History comes to an end and according to numbers provided by the museum, some 300,000 people have visited it, one month before its scheduled closure on 4 April. “Exoplanètes” then will hand over to dinosaurs, a unique topic capable of drawing in as many or even […]

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NCCR PlanetS

NCCR PlanetS

Dear Reader, In 2015 we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star by our colleagues Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Reflecting back on these two decades it is amazing to realize how much this discovery has changed the traditional fields of astronomy and planetary sciences increasingly bringing […]

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Chaos in the birth of planets

Chaos in the birth of planets

The formation of Earth-like planets is like billiards: A tiny change in the first collision of the building blocks can lead to a completely different result – a chaotic, but not a random behaviour as researchers of PlanetS at the University of Zurich calculated. They have developed the world’s fastest code for simulating collisions. Its […]

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“The goal is to enable science”

“The goal is to enable science”

“Building the world’s largest telescopes at ESO” was the title of Tim de Zeeuw’s talk at the University of Bern. “To be able to help science and have the countries work together – that’s something I really enjoy doing”, says the Director General of ESO. PlanetS: What is the biggest problem building the world’s largest […]

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NIRPS, the red arm of HARPS

NIRPS, the red arm of HARPS

In association with the Canadians from the Montreal University and Brasilian colleagues from the Natal University, the Geneva Observatory and members of the NCCR PlanetS will soon participate in the construction of a new instrument capable of detecting planets with the radial velocity method. The NIRPS (Near Infra Red Planet Searcher) project will enter its […]

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Successful CHEOPS test

Successful CHEOPS test

The video shows the successful baffle cover opening test performed at Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) – Spain after the spacecraft mechanical environmental campaign. The cover, which is used to protect the telescope against environmental influences during ground operations and launch, opened as planned roughly 50 seconds after the system has been switched on. The […]

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Targets for CHEOPS

Targets for CHEOPS

“In two years time CHEOPS will be in space, so before the launch we must have defined the observation program and a large part of the targets.” David Ehrenreich, CHEOPS Mission Scientist and member of NCCR PlanetS is categorical, “CHEOPS must be exploitable from the beginning of the mission”. All European scientists involved in the […]

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Launching the CHEOPS fellow program

Launching the CHEOPS fellow program

The main science goals of the CHaracterizing ExoPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS) will be to study the structure of exoplanets with radii typically ranging from 1 to 6 REarth orbiting bright stars. It is this last characteristic that makes CHEOPS unique when compared to its two predecessor COROT and Kepler. With an accurate knowledge of masses and radii for […]

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The Bethlehem Star

The Bethlehem Star

Did planets guide the Three Wise Men to the stable near Bethlehem two millennia ago? Or a comet? Or is the famous star mere literary fiction as in the Hellenistic and Roman world, depictions of kings and emperors were usually accompanied by a star? By Carsten Knigge For generations children and grown-ups alike have been delighted […]

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Inside view of 51pegb discovery

Inside view of 51pegb discovery

“Sorry, the room is full, you can go to the other auditorium where the conference is broadcast on a giant screen.” Security agents continually repeated this to the despair of a large audience on 3rd November 2015 at the University of Geneva. It must be said that the cast announced to the Geneva public was […]

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PlanetS in Washington

PlanetS in Washington

More than 1,200 diplomats, dignitaries, business representatives and other guests met on September 16th at the Swiss embassy’s annual «Soirée Suisse». The event, which according to Ambassador Martin Dahinden celebrates the «rich and diverse friendship between our two nations» Switzerland and the United States, is known as the annual highlight at the embassy. This year […]

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NCCR PlanetS

NCCR PlanetS

Dear Reader, Almost 2000 exoplanets have been found since our colleagues Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discovered the first one orbiting a solar-type star exactly twenty years ago. Such an incredible explosion in number is due for one part to the development of instruments with increasing performances and for another part to the fact that […]

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Testing CHEOPS at the University of Bern

Testing CHEOPS at the University of Bern

The space telescope dedicated to characterize exoplanets is taking shape. A camera installed in a clean room shows how the CHEOPS team prepares the structural and thermal model for tests in the vacuum chamber.  In the huge test chamber the CHEOPS engineers run thermal cycles on the telescope’s structural and thermal model (STM): under vacuum […]

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“James Webb is a challenging mission”

“James Webb is a challenging mission”

Observing exoplanet transits will be one of the big science areas of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), says Mark Clampin, Observatory Project Scientist of the JWST at NASA’s Goddard Space Fight Center. He was one of the speakers at a conference in July in Bern where 185 participants from all over the world discussed […]

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SPHERE – the planets’ photographer

SPHERE – the planets’ photographer

Only a few exoplanets have been photographed directly, the others were found in indirect methods. In order to detect and characterize exoplanets by imaging, a consortium in which members of PlanetS are involved, designed SPHERE (Spectro Polarimetric High contrast Exoplanet REsearch), an instrument capable of photographing a planet up to a million times fainter than […]

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Where it all started in 1995

Where it all started in 1995

When Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz found the first exoplanet orbiting another solar-type star twenty years ago, Swiss TV documented the historic discovery. Have a look at the young researchers in this video that was first broadcasted on 7 December 1995.

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What the “comet planet” tells us

What the “comet planet” tells us

Gliese 436b (also called GJ 436b) could perhaps explain the past of our atmosphere and its future. This planet that looks like a comet because of its huge hydrogen tails arouses great interest among several PlanetS astronomers. They have just demonstrated in an article in “Nature” that the hydrogen contained in the planet’s atmosphere is […]

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How an astronomer works

How an astronomer works

Looking through a telescope is a thing of the past. Visit the office of Michael Meyer, Professor at ETH Zurich and member of PlanetS, to find out what his most important tools for creative science are. Just click on the small magnifying glasses that you see on the rectangular areas on the image. Hint: To […]

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CHEOPS made with a 3D printer

CHEOPS made with a 3D printer

Real space enthusiasts would like to own at least a model of spaceships and satellites. Until now the ESA space telescope CHEOPS that is realized under the lead of the University of Bern was available as a paper model only. Now you can print CHEOPS on a 3D printer. You may download data files and […]

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Glancing into the skies

Glancing into the skies

Each month the night sky holds many beautiful and interesting objects that we can observe if the weather gods allow. The focus of this article is on the second half of August and on objects that can be seen by the unaided eye. Instead of hunting exoplanets, we will look out for the brighter planets in […]

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A life elsewhere for children

A life elsewhere for children

Although its “Exoplanètes” exhibition is aimed to a wide audience, the Natural History Museum of Geneva is also targeting children by offering them exhibition-related activities. As a partner of “exoplanets” the NCCR PlanetS is therefore organizing activities for children entitled “could we live elsewhere” every Wednesday afternoon in August and September. As a first approach, […]

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The hunt for habitable planets

The hunt for habitable planets

5 September 2015: Take part in the event «Planetenjagd». How did life originate on Earth? Could life develop elsewhere in the universe? Ask scientists, listen to short lectures, take part in workshops for children and adults – and solve the quiz! Physicists, geologists, biologists, chemists, philosophers and theologians of the «Center for Space and Habitability» CSH, University […]

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NCCR PlanetS

NCCR PlanetS

Dear Reader, You are looking at the first edition of the e-Newsletter of the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS. The Swiss National Science Foundation launched PlanetS in June 2014 as a response to an astronomical revolution. The one spawned by the discovery in 1995 of the first planet orbiting another solar-type star […]

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51 Peg b – top secret

51 Peg b – top secret

Studying the data collected at the Observatory of Haute-Provence the astronomers in Geneva knew something big was coming. But they kept their secret and worked hard to eliminate all sources of error. The Summer of 1995 – like every day at noon, astronomers from the Geneva Observatory interrupted their work for lunch in the cafeteria. […]

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“I could not believe it”

“I could not believe it”

51 Peg b changed our view of the Universe – and the life of its discoverers, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. “I thought there was something not working in the software,” remembers Didier Queloz his first reaction when he analyzed the data collected with the spectrometer called ELODIE. Has it always been a goal to discover […]

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Planets for beginners

Planets for beginners

“When I think that I do not even know what a planet is,” exclaimed Véronique, a specialist in contemporary art, pushing open the doors of “Exoplanets”, the exhibition organized by the Museum of Natural History in Geneva. It is a gray day and light rain sprinkles the city on this fresh Sunday of April, ideal weather […]

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Amazing weather reports

Amazing weather reports

There are clear skies on exoplanet HAT-P-11b, whereas infernal winds are blowing high up on HD 189733 b. Today, with their elaborate instruments on Earth and in space astronomers not only discover new exoplanets, but also gain insight into the atmospheres of these distant worlds. In the future they even hope to detect signals of […]

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Dedicated to planet hunting

Dedicated to planet hunting

At the European Southern Observatory exoplanet science brought a rich harvest in the past, and the future looks even brighter as ESO guest author Gaspare Lo Courto explains in the following article. By Gaspare Lo Courto, ESO This year marks two decades since the discovery of the first exo-planet orbiting another solar-type star, 51 Pegasi […]

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Send your drawing into space

Send your drawing into space

Imagine: You are pointing at the starry night sky and tell your friends «up there flies my drawing through space». In fact, this is possible. With the ESA Space Telescope CHEOPS (CHarakterizing ExOPlanet Satellite), which is built under the supervision of the University of Bern, 3000 children’s drawings will fly into space. 888 drawings will […]

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Intriguing features on Chury’s surface

Intriguing features on Chury’s surface

A group of researchers led by scientists at the University of Bern have recently published a study describing many amazing and intriguing features on the surface of a comet using new images from the European Rosetta space mission. Various viewing angles for 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with overlain colorized regions. The regions have been named using ancient Egyptian […]

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Collisions in the computer

Collisions in the computer

The worlds’ fastest code for simulating planet formation calculates millions of possible orbits and close encounters between celestial bodies. It was developed by scientists of PlanetS at the University of Zurich. The video shows a real time visualization of 100000 test particles in Jupiters gravitational field simulated with GENGA. GENGA2 is the name of the […]

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Historic encounter

Historic encounter

On 14 July 2015 NASA’s New Horizons mission will make the first-ever close flyby of Pluto. The spacecraft should pass the dwarf planet within a distance of 10’000 kilometres at a speed of about 50’000 kilometres per hour. New Horizons should also come as close as 27’000 kilometres to Pluto’s companion Charon.The spacecraft is supposed […]

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Supernova Forensics

Supernova Forensics

Many elements we find on Earth or other planets are made in the core of stars. When a star explodes as supernova, it shoots these elements into space. Amazing discoveries in the subsequent search for traces of supernovae is the topic of a lecture in Bern by Alicia Margarita Soderberg, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard […]

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