Lorentz Center - How to Find Our Nearest Neighbors from 22 Oct 2012 through 26 Oct 2012
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    How to Find Our Nearest Neighbors
    from 22 Oct 2012 through 26 Oct 2012


Description and Aims         

The past few years have seen very rapid progress in our understanding of planetary systems, spurred by dramatic technological advances in exoplanet detection techniques, and by investments in dedicated ground-based as well space-borne instrument and facilities. In particular, tremendous strides have been made towards finding planets with ever-lower masses and radii, and towards determining their physical properties. A compelling goal driving many of these developments is the search for habitable worlds, and ultimately for life elsewhere in the Universe. While early proposals for missions aimed at the detection of Earth analogs (DARWIN, TPF-I, TPF-C, SIM) have fallen prey to fiscal pressures, the development of technologies that will enable the discovery and characterization of Earth twins in the Solar neighborhood remains an important goal of the major space agencies.

The aim of the meeting was to bring together experts in all fields of exoplanet detection along with presentations of the latest scientific results and the most recent technological advances relevant to this research. The first part of the week brought younger researchers in for an overview of the exoplanet field, and the second part of the week saw the workshop split into focus groups to examine the different pathways for detection and characterization over the next twenty years. These groups then would write up their findings and the result be consolidated into a “white paper” that will summarize the outcome of the workshop and act as a reference for space and ground-based projects in the decades to come.

Scientific Outcome

Progress from the ground has covered a significant amount of parameter space, and in the context of finding and characterizing exo-Earths in nearby star systems, it became clear that ground based telescopes are becoming more important with respect to more expensive and slower to develop space-based missions.

Notable insights included:


  • Radial velocity sensitivities are reaching down to exo-Earth masses for specific targets. The announcement of the exoplanet Alpha Centauri Bb occurred during the week of the workshop!
  • Transit spectroscopy from space with Kepler tells us that the rocky planet fraction (eta Earth) is close to unity, meaning that looking around the nearest stars we will likely expect to detect super-Earths around them.
  • The higher angular resolution provided by Extremely Large Telescopes on the ground are very competitive and may well trump smaller aperture space-based telescope missions for characterizing exo-Earths.

The results of this Workshop are to be presented in a “white paper” based on the results of the Working Groups from the second part of the week.


Overall Evaluation and Feedback

The Lorentz Center Workshop format was extremely successful in bringing out a dialogue between otherwise disparate groups of exoplanet researchers. The research field is growing rapidly and it is difficult for researchers to keep up to date on the latest findings. Having two days of presentations helped everyone come up to speed on the latest research and findings. Secondly, we invited graduate students and young researchers so that they may gain an insight into how the field is evolving and what technologies are involved and needed.

The small size of the workshop proved an ideal setting for interaction between both eminent names in the field both from Europe and from America. At times the large coffee bell was needed to drag people out of their lively conversations and back to the lectures or focus groups!


Having the students form part of the focus groups also encouraged them to interact with the senior scientists and to establish collaborative links for the future. Both the Boat Trip dinner and the visit to the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden were highly appreciated by all the attendees. The workshop was viewed as a tremendous success for all the participants involved.


Matthew Kenworthy (Leiden, the Netherlands)

Malcolm Fridlund (ESTEC, the Netherlands)

Andreas Quirrenbach (Heidelberg, Germany)