Exoplanetary Systems and Solar System


Every month a new planetary system is discovered. The Severo Ochoa project is supporting the ongoing work at the IAC on the following topics related to the Exoplanetary and Solar systems research line:

1) Comprehending the wide variety of extrasolar planets in existence, and in particular to achieve the detection of Earth-like planets around nearby stars using new more advanced ultra-stable spectrographs which are under development (ESPRESSO, HIRES) or currently available (HARPS North and South, CARMENES, SONG), and with high precision photometric surveys using ground (Super-WASP, QUES, LCOGT, MUSCAT) and satellite facilities (CoRoT, Kepler K2CHEOPS, TESS and Plato space missions). The IAC also participates in the development and exploitation of the CARMENES spectrograph. The main science objective of this instrument is to carry out a survey (2016-2018) of late-type main-sequence stars with the goal of detecting terrestrial planets in their Habitable Zone. 

2) Improving the radial velocities techniques that led to the discovery of exo-Earths. The IAC participates in several radial velocity searches for giant and rocky planets and radial velocity follow-up of transit searches from Super-WASP, Kepler K2 and CoRoT using current available ultrastable spectrographs such as FIRES, HARPS North and South. The IAC also participates in the development and exploitation of the CARMENES spectrograph. The main science objective of this instrument is to carry out a survey (2016-2018) of late-type main-sequence stars with the goal of detecting terrestrial planets in their Habitable Zone. The IAC co-leads the instrument ESPRESSO for the VLT, the most precise high-resolution spectrograph ever built. This instrument will break the barrier for precision of stellar radial velocities, currently at about 1 m/s, pushing it down to 0.1 m/s, allowing us to detect Earth-like planets orbiting solar-type stars.

2) The characterization of exoplanet atmospheres from gas giants to exo-Earths to gain insights into their structure, surface conditions and atmospheres, culminating in evaluations on the habitability for the expected discoveries of Earth-sized planets. The IAC has developed techniques to use ground-based facilities in the study of the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets. Recent results with GTC/OSIRIS have shown a level of precision, which are probably among the best ever obtained from the ground. In the coming years we will make use of the new instrumentation for the GTC (EMIR, CIRCE) complemented by unique access in Europe to instrumentation for long-coverage precision spectroscopy and photometry, through the SONG and LCOGT networks of telescopes. The IAC also participates in the CHEOPS satellite, which will be dedicated to characterize exoplanet atmosphere by performing ultra-high precision photometry on bright stars already known to host planets. In addition the IAC is developing new high-resolution imaging facilities for the GTC, including a single-conjugate Adaptive Optic system based on natural guide stars (GTCAO) and a laser guide star (GTCAO-LGS), which will allow the direct detection and spectroscopic characterization of young giant planets.

3) Understanding the formation of exoplanet systems via detailed chemical composition studies of planet host stars, and investigating the existence and dynamical evolution of exoplanets at their early stages of formation.

4) Studying the physical properties of different populations and families of small bodies of the Solar System (asteroids, comets, trans-neptunian objects, etc.) to obtain information of their role in its origin and evolution and how they could influence the genesis of life by bringing to the primitive Earth water and complex organics. The IAC is part of the OSIRIS-REx Science Team since 2011. OSIRIS-REx is a NASA mission approved to fly in 2016 to the primitive asteroid (101955) Bennu and make a rendezvous with it in 2018. The IAC is also running the PRIMitive Asteroids Spectroscopic Survey (PRIMASS), which includes both visible and near-infrared spectra of primitive asteroid families and asteroid populations with the aim of characterizing the material and occurrence of water alteration along the primitive solar system. 


Specific Goals:

  • Develop spectroscopic/imaging techniques to search/detect Earth-like planets.
  • Characterize exoplanet atmospheres to gain insight into their structure, surface conditions and atmospheres, including chemical composition studies which will inform on the genesis and evolution of our world and similar ones.
  • Determine the physical properties of small bodies of the solar system, and search for interrelations and links with their dynamical history, which will inform on the origin and evolution of our planetary system.
  • Search for evidence of the presence of water-ice and complex organics in primitive objects. This will inform on the amount of water-ice and organics that incorporated the Earth due to collisions with small bodies.


Main Scientific Outputs:


  • Deep imaging observations of the activated asteroid P/2016 G1 (PANSTARRS) using the GTC have allowed obtaining information about the amount of dust ejected by the asteroid and the ejection mechanism (published in The Astrophyscial Journal Letters). 
  • The OSIRIS-REx probe, a mission with participation of the IAC which will study one of the oldest asteroids in the Solar System, was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on September 2016.
  • Variations in the Earth’s albedo, a fundamental climate parameter for understanding the radiation budget of the atmosphere, have been studied for the period 1998 - 2014 by observing the Moon. The results show two modest decadal scale cycles in the terrestrial albedo, but with no significant net change over the sixteen years of accumulated data (published in the Geophysical Research Letters). 



  • The discovery of a super-Earth orbiting the neaby M-dwarf star GJ536 has been done based on the analysis of the radial-velocity time series from the HARPS and HARPS-N spectrographs (published in Astronomy & Astrophysics).
  • First spectra of two extreme trans-Neptunian objects have been obtained with the OSIRIS camera-spectrograph at the GTC. The observations support the “Planet Nine” hypothesis, with a planet in the range 10-20 Earth masses, moving in an eccentric and inclined orbit, with semi-major axis of 300-600 AU (published in MNRAS Letters). 


Previous Results (2012-2015)

Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. C/ Via Láctea s/n 38200, La Laguna. Canary Islands. Spain.
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