The possibility of planets orbiting other stars has been a topic of fascination for centuries. We are the first generation that has brought these planets – now known as exoplanets – from the realm of science-fiction into that of science. An important milestone was the discovery of several planets orbiting a pulsar (Wolszczan & Frail, 1992), followed by the first planet orbiting a star more similar to our Sun (Mayor & Queloz, 1995), an achievement recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. The 25 years since have been filled with an abundance of exciting discoveries and today we know over 4000 exoplanets.
These planets exhibit an incredible diversity of properties. Why do so many planets have tiny orbits – often much smaller than that of Mercury? What causes planets to become rocky, gaseous, or something in between? Why do some planets have orbits that are strongly eccentric, or misaligned with the rotation of their host stars? What happens to planets when stars evolve away from the main sequence? Which planets are the most favourable and interesting targets for studies of their atmospheres? How unique is our solar system – are we alone? At MSSL, we aim to investigate and answer some of these daunting but exciting questions.
Furthermore, we are heavily involved in the ESA PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission.
Staff active in these areas: