National Centre of Competence in Research PlanetS
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Planetary Atmospheres

Project Leader: Prof. F. Pepe
One of the most exciting questions, the habitability of exoplanets, cannot be answered without understanding what they are composed of and how their atmospheres look like. The combination of transit and radial velocity observations provides us direct access to the average density of planets and thus their bulk structure. The study of transmitted, reflected and emitted light of a planet gives access to crucial information on the atmospheric structure and composition, like the pressure-temperature profile, atmospheric scale height, heat redistribution pattern, abundance of various chemical species, presence of clouds or hazes. Atmospheric constituents also provide further important constraints on the bulk composition of the planet, which may not be unambiguously determined by the measured radius and mass alone. The understanding of the interaction between the inner structure and the atmosphere will be fundamental to obtain a complete picture.


HARPS transmission spectrum of HD189733b around the sodium Na I D lines after subtraction of the stellar spectrum.




Dr. Ch. Lovis

The first step in the understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres is their observation. Learn how in this subproject we will use existing and future instrumentation to detect signatures from exoplanetary atmospheres. Data reduction, analysis and mining play a crucial role, as well. This sub-project will make extensive use of the DACE platform in order to best exploit available data and models.


Building high-fidelity spectrographs

Dr. F. Wildi

Major steps forward in observational astronomy are often linked to technological progresses. Our group has a long-lasting experience in precision spectro-velocimetry. We aim at extending our experience towards high-fidelity spectroscopy and transfer it on extremely-large telescopes for the observation of faint signals. How? Explore the answer within this sub-project and have a look at the Technology Platform.


Dr. D. Ehrenreich

In order to interpret the observed planetary spectra and make quantitative statements they have to be linked to theoretical models. On the other hand, theory may provide predictions about where, what and how to observe. This sub-project links observations with theoretical modelling (see the Formation & Evolution Project) to make us ‘understand’ the real nature of planets.


Additional information

Presentation slideshow of the project


A planet inflated like a balloon (12/6/2018) - Researchers from UNIGE and members of the NCCR PlanetS have found helium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, swollen like a balloon. Although helium is...
Iron and titanium in the atmosphere (8/16/2018) - Metal vapours have been detected in the atmosphere of an “ultra-hot Jupiter” by a team of astronomers led by the UNIGE. Exoplanets, planets in other...
Observing the Sun to detect planets (5/23/2018) - The detection of small exoplanets like the Earth is subject to many difficulties, in particular those introduced by the intrinsic variation of the star which...
First detection of Helium in an exoatmosphere (5/3/2018) - For the first time, an international team of astronomers including members of PlanetS has detected helium in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. Early theoretical models predicted helium...
ESPRESSO: first time with the 4 UTs of the VLT (2/14/2018) - The membres of the ESPRESSO team announced that the first light of ESPRESSO with the four VLT 8.2-meter Unit Telescopes (4UT mode) took place on...
Orbital mayhem around a red dwarf (12/18/2017) - Astronomers members of PlanetS, discovered that the GJ436b, nicknamed “the comet-like exoplanet” because it evaporates like a comet, follows a very special elliptical orbit over...
ESO’s La Silla Observatory will host new planet hunter (9/1/2017) - The NIRPS (Near Infra Red Planet Searcher) instrument will be installed on the 3.6 m telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Built by...
PlanetS researchers on Euronews (1/27/2017) - The multilingual news channel Euronews visited the Observatory of Geneva and reports in the new edition of its programme called Space about “Hunting earth-like exoplanets”....
The atmosphere of Proximab (1/13/2017) - In an article published in A&A early January, a team led by Christophe Lovis of PlanetS shows that it would be possible to analyze the...
A new building for planets hunters (6/30/2016) - Astrotech, the new building of the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Geneva was inaugurated on Monday 27th June, in the presence of the local...


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