Following-up interesting planet candidates from Antarctica

As part of the annual call for Science Research programmes at the SCI directorate, we have been awarded department funds to contribute to the 40-centimeter Antarctic Search for Transiting ExoPlanets (ASTEP) telescope. This telescope, operating from the Franco- Italian Concordia Research Station in Antarctica, has been discovering Exo-Planets (i.e. planets orbiting stars other than the Sun) since 2020 with ESA participation thanks to its exceptional astronomical observing conditions (-80 degrees, 10 times drier than the Atacama Desert, continuous night of four months over the Antarctic winter season) and a fruitful collaboration of scientists and engineers from the Observatoire de Cote d’Azur, the University of Birmingham and ESA.

ESA contributed in 2019 to a new double-filter camera that has just been installed to help detecting Earth-type planets around nearby stars in return for 10% of the observing time of the telescope. Now we have been granted research funds from the SCI Science Research programme to contribute to a special telescope mount for the ASTEP telescope designed to operate on extreme cold temperatures which will increase the scientific output of the telescope by a factor of 2 by providing substantially faster and more precise slewing from one pointing to the next one. In return of ESA’s contribution, the ESA Scientists are entitled to use up to 20% of the total observing time in the telescope, as per a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the members of the ASTEP Consortium and the corresponding ESA Science Faculty.