The Astrophysics Group at the University of Exeter is at the forefront of stellar and exoplanetary science and one of the most successful Astrophysics groups in Europe.
We aim to continue our trajectory of renowned excellence in the exoplanet field, which will be one of the major research topics in Astrophysics over the next decades with the prospect of discovering new planets harbouring life.
Over the next decade, the field of astrophysics will also have access to a number of facilities with the potential to transform our understanding of the universe. The European Extremely Large Telescope, the “world’s biggest eye on the sky” with first light targeted for 2024, will open new grounds in various fields, including exoplanet detection/characterisation. The Square Kilometre Array will be a radio telescope of truly unprecedented capabilities with the potential to revolutionise a range of fields from star formation and solar physics through to galaxies and cosmology. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will be a cornerstone of astronomy in the next decade and will contribute to diverse science areas such as understanding the structure of our Galaxy, one of our fields of research in Exeter, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
We need the space and place for our academics to work with these new international facilities to undertake their research and deliver tangible results with international impact.
In 2021 The Terra Hunting Experiment will begin its search for Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits around solar-type stars. The Exeter astrophysics group is one of the world’s leading groups in exoplanet characterisation, both through numerical simulations and observation. In partnership with Universities from around the world we will use the latest telescope and data technologies to observe a small sample of around 40 stars every night they are available to build up the most extensive spectroscopic time series possible over a ten-year period. This will efficiently explore the range of orbital distances and planetary masses required to find planets similar to our own Earth. We will use these observations to further atmospheric studies, advance our research in astrobiology and see if we can identify a ‘twin Earth’.
The University of Exeter is currently home to one teaching telescope, on the roof of the Physics Tower. Over 120 undergraduate students use this each year to develop skills in robotics, programming and crucially how the analyse the data gathered from ‘on-sky hours’. It is also used as a testbed for autonomous systems.
Due to the increasing demand for the next generation of astrophysicists, we aim to provide more onsite facilities by acquiring a second telescope and dome. Not only would this double the on-sky time available to astrophysics undergraduates, but it would enable us to grow our Masters and PhD programmes, by providing vital access to the latest technology.