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VIRTUAL GSL Public lecture: Rocky planets across the Galaxy

09 December 2021
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Event type:
Virtual event, Lecture
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Geological Society Events, 2021 Year of Space
Virtual event
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Rocky planets across the Galaxy

The context for our understanding of Earth and the other rocky bodies in the Solar System planets changed dramatically with the discovery in 2009 of CoRoT-7b, the first potentially terrestrial exoplanet. Many more probable rocky exoplanets have been discovered by the Kepler mission, establishing that rocky planets are common in our Galaxy. There are likely to be more planets than stars in the Galaxy, and the majority of these planets are significantly smaller than Neptune.

The vast majority of the thousands of planets discovered by Kepler orbit stars which are too faint and distant for astronomers to make detailed observational studies. In recent years, however, great progress has been made in discovering low mass, probably rocky planets orbiting bright nearby stars. I will outline the discoveries of the very closest exoplanets by the RedDots project which studies the Sun’s nearest neighbours. These neighbouring exoplanets orbit dim red stars, which are far more common than stars like the Sun.

A surprisingly large fraction of these nearby exoplanets have characteristics which indicate some potential for hosting habitats for life, though so far we do not have very much detailed information. The Dispersed Matter Planet Project is finding hot rocky planets orbiting nearby Sun like stars. These planets are so hot that their surface layers vaporise, which offers opportunities to directly measure the composition of their rocky surfaces. I will describe these planetary system discoveries and what we can learn about their minerology. Finally I will describe the latest results on rocky planets from TESS and CHEOPS and the prospects for the forthcoming missions JWST, Plato2.0 and Ariel.


Carole Haswell is Head of Astronomy at the Open University and researches exoplanets, focusing on identifying low mass, probably rocky planets orbiting bright nearby stars. She leads the Dispersed Matter Planet Project (DMPP) which uses clues imprinted on starlight to select stars which host rocky planets in very short period orbits. The DMPP stars are shrouded in a diffuse circumstellar shroud of gas vapourised from the surfaces of their close-in planets. Carole’s research team conducts radial velocity observations of these stars, and is finding a steady stream of particularly interesting new exoplanets. The DMPP planets will reveal the geology of rocky planets outside our own Solar System. Carole is a member of the RedDots collaboration, and was a member of the Ariel Mission Science Advisory Team. She wrote a widely-used textbook “Transiting Exoplanets”and is the Lead Academic on the OpenLearn free course “An Introduction to exoplanets”. Carole is an STFC-funded Public Engagement Leadership Fellow.


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