Exoplanet science is omnipresent on the roadmaps of all major space agencies and ground-based observatories, and continues to drive the research activities of an increasing number of scientists worldwide. One of the long-term objectives is the investigation of the atmospheric properties for a statistically significant number of terrestrial exoplanets. The key motivations are two-fold – firstly to understand the diversity of planetary bodies and how our Solar System fits into the larger context of exoplanetary systems, and secondly to identify potential biosignatures. Key steps towards achieving these objectives will be possible in the next 10–15 years with upcoming missions such as TESS, CHEOPS, JWST, PLATO, WFIRST and ARIEL.
However, none of these missions will provide the statistical data set of terrestrial exoplanets that is ultimately needed to achieve the scientific goals mentioned above. Given the precision and sensitivity requirements, a space mission seems inevitable. However, what is less clear, from a purely scientific perspective, is what the optimum design for such a mission is. For example, NASA is actively pursuing the idea of a large, single aperture UV/optical/near-infrared telescope (the HabEx and LUVOIR concepts). However, other concepts may offer advantages or supplement these concepts and require active investigation.
Therefore, in the framework of a Lorentz Center Workshop, we here aim for a comprehensive assessment of the scientific promises and the technical challenges that a space-based mid-infrared nulling interferometer, such as the LIFE mission concept (ESA Voyage2050 white paper, https://www.life-space-mission.com) for exoplanet science would represent. Our activities will build on the scientific and technical work which was undertaken on a similar ESA mission concept a decade ago, but will take advantage of the dramatic improvements in knowledge of the exoplanet population and progress in key technical areas. We believe that now is the right time to go back and have a critical look at such a mission concept – to assess its scientific yield compared to other options and to establish how it would fit into the global landscape of exoplanet science in the 2030s and beyond.
To this end, we will assemble a team of scientists with extensive and diverse expertise in (exo)planetary science, (infrared) space technology, and (infrared) interferometry to discuss the opportunities and challenges that arise from a space-based mid-infrared interferometer for exoplanet research uniquely designed to image and characterise a statistically significant ensemble of exo-Earths. The workshop goal will be a set of dedicated manuscripts that synthesize, on the one hand, well-defined scientific objectives, science requirements and the expected science return for such a mission, and, on the other hand, a summary of key technologies and a roadmap for further technology development that will enable us to take forward the concept for such a mission.
In order to facilitate the workshop goals, the largest share of the time will be allocated to work in splinter sessions. The detailed splitting of the groups will be discussed at the workshop, but will consist of the themes Science, Technology, and Strategy. To begin with, we aim to split the group in two, focused on Science and Technology, with further sub-division decided interactively in the working groups. Each day there will be a brief plenary discussion of the current progress in the working groups and a re-evaluation at the end of the day. Strategy goals will be targeted collectively during these and focused plenary sessions at the beginning and end of the workshop. Depending on progress, the groupings may change over time, with key personnel switching between splinter sessions. Volunteers for leading the groups and technical organisation for the writing efforts will be handled in advance. The splinter sessions are designed as active discussion in groups (switch between small teams working on sub-problems, ~7-9 people, and large groups discussing the current state of each theme, ~20-25 people). Theme leaders and proposals for sub-groups will be communicated before the workshop, such that the structure of the workshop is already organised during the group allocation on the first day. Applicants for the workshop will have the chance to propose additional sub-groups for the workshop during sign-up.
Legend: Introduction and start of group discussions
|10:00||10:15||Lorentz Center welcome|
|10:15||10:45||Opening workshop. Introduction of the LIFE space mission concept and previous activity, the various roles and key personell and communication and discussion of workshop goals|
|11:00||11:30||Mission strategy discussion: plenary discussion|
|11:30||12:15||Workshop organisation and schedule: plenary discussion. Assign specific rols during the workshop|
|14:00||15:30||Splinter session divide and first splinter session. Introduction of gorup members(posters/slides), assign internal splinter group roles and sub-groupings|
|16:00||17:00||Plenary discussions: update from each theme and sub-group leader, potential re-grouping|
|17:30||19:00||Wine and cheese party|
|09:00||09:30||Conclusion/highlights day 1 by the day chair (TBA)|
|09:30||10:30||Wake-up talk: Insights from the NASA HabEx mission concept by Bertrand Mennensson|
|16:00||17:00||Plenary discussion: update from each theme and sub-group leader, potential re-grouping|
|09:00||09:30||Conclusion/highlights day 2 by the day chair (TBA)|
|09:30||10:30||Wake-up talk: Insights from the ESA PLATO mission by Heike Rauer|
Presentation of current manuscript status
|10:00||10:45||Wake-up talk: Technical challenges for a space-based interferometer by Michael Ireland|
|17:00||18:00||Plenary discussion: future meetings, mission concept strategy, community building|
|09:00||09:30||Wake-up talk: Exoplanet biosignatures by Sarah Rugheimer|
|09:30||10:00||Final splinter sessions: last preparations for presentations during following plenary|
|10:30||12:00||Plenary talks and conclusion phase, building momentum for finalizing reports/goals|
|13:30||15:30||Wrap up and discussion of future actions items, plenary discussion|