Opening a new window to other worlds with spectropolarimetry

Maren Mohler, Johannes Bühl, Stephen Doherty, Siegfried Eggl, Vera Theresa Eybl, François Farago, Aleksandar Jaćimović, Lars Hunger, Nynne L.B. Lauritsen, David Ludena, Martina Meisnar, Alexander Reissner, Nicolas Sarda, Benjamin Toullec, Meritxell Viñas Tió

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A high level of diversity has already been observed among the planets of our own Solar System. As such, one expects extrasolar planets to present a wide range of distinctive features, therefore the characterisation of Earth- and super Earth-like planets is becoming of key importance in scientific research. The Search (Spectropolarimetric Exoplanet AtmospheRe CHaracerisation) mission proposal of this paper represents one possible approach to realising these objectives. The mission goals of Search include the detailed characterisation of a wide variety of exoplanets, ranging from terrestrial planets to gas giants. More specifically, Search will determine atmospheric properties such as cloud coverage, surface pressure and atmospheric composition, and may also be capable of identifying basic surface features. To resolve a planet with a semi major axis of down to 1. 4 AU and 30 pc distant Search will have a mirror system consisting of two segments, with elliptical rim, cut out of a parabolic mirror. This will yield an effective diameter of 9 m along one axis. A phase mask coronagraph along with an integral spectrograph will be used to overcome the contrast ratio of star to planet light. Such a mission would provide invaluable data on the diversity present in extrasolar planetary systems and much more could be learned from the similarities and differences compared to our own Solar System. This would allow our theories of planetary formation, atmospheric accretion and evolution to be tested, and our understanding of regions such as the outer limit of the Habitable Zone to be further improved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-135
Number of pages35
JournalExperimental Astronomy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Characterisation of atmospheres
  • Coronography
  • Extrasolar planets
  • Polarimetry
  • Spectrography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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