Major Ongoing Projects:

Earths in Other Solar Systems

EOS LogoEOS is a major, multi-insitutional astrobiology research team funded by the NASA Astrobiology program’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science. The PI of the EOS Team is Daniel Apai and the University of Arizona is EOS’s lead institution. With over 25 investigators spanning five institutions, EOS is making a large, coordinated research effort toward the goal of understanding which nearby planetary systems are most likely to harbor earth-sized habitable-zone planets with the right inventory of biocritical ingredients.

Learn more about EOS.

Project Nautilus – A Galactic Search for Life

Although several thousand exoplanets are known today – including an increasing number of rocky habitable zone roughly earth-sized planets – no existing telescope is capable of collecting enough light from these planet’s atmospheres to allow a search for life even in a single target. With NASA’s JWST a couple of the closest planets may become accessible for spectroscopic studies, but a large scale search is beyond the capabilities of any existing or conceivable future telescopes – as long as they are limited by the size of the difficult-to-scale primary mirrors.

Our Nautilus team is developing a revolutionary telescope design and the technology to enable a galactic-scale search for life: an atmospheric biosignature and exo-earth diversity study targeting one thousand exo-earths. The Nautilus project is currently in technology development and mission concept development phase, with prototype observations and laboratory tests ongoing.

Nautilus website

Rotational Mapping of Ultracool Atmospheres: HST, Spitzer, LBT, and VLTA cloudy brown dwarf.

In seven Hubble Space Telescope and six Spitzer Space Telescope  programs we target brown dwarfs and use rotational modulations to explore the properties of their cloud covers as a function of their atmospheric parameters (temperature, rotation period, surface gravity, spectral type, colors).

We are also using high-contrast imagers (VLT/NACO, LBT/AO, HST, VLT/SPHERE) to obtain high-precisions lightcurves of planetary-mass or brown dwarf companions to nearby stars to determine their rotational periods and compare their cloud properties to those we observe in brown dwarf atmospheres.

ACCESS: The Arizona – CfA – Catholic Unversity Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey

The ACCESS survey is the largest exiting ground-based spectroscopic study of transiting exoplanets. Led by Co-PIs Daniel Apai (U Arizona), Mercedes Lopez-Morales (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), and Andres Jordan (Catholic University of Chile), this five year-long study is using the Magellan telescopes to build up the most comprehensive optical transmission spectral library of exoplanets, with masses ranging from super-earths through hot neptune and saturnes to hot jupiters.

Learn more about ACCESS.

Project EDEN: Exoearth Discovery and Exploration Network

In Project EDEN we are surveying stars within fifty lightyears for candidate earth-like planets. EDEN utilizes a combination of exoplanet detection techniques and a large network of research telescopes distributed over multiple continents.

Learn more about Project EDEN


High-Contrast Imaging: The MEPHISTO and SCORPION SFour exoplanets imaged in the HR 8799 systemurveys

The Mapping the distribution of Exoplanets with High-Contrast Imaging and Spectroscopy and the Scorpion survey are powerful, adaptive optics-based high-contrast imaging surveys using VLT/NACO and VLT/SPHERE  to image about 150 nearby young stars. The goal of the surveys is to determine the frequency of large-separation giant planets around them.
The projects are funded in part by NASA’s Origins of Solar Systems program.




Recently Completed Projects

Extrasolar Storms – A Cycle-9 Spitzer Exploration Science Program

In Extrasolar Storms we monitored photometric and spectroscopy variations on a representative set of brown dwarfs on timescales ranging from hours to more than a year (1 to ~1,000 rotations). The targets vary in integrated light due to their rotation and their heterogeneous cloud covers. By comparing light curves at many different epochs, we can piece together the cloud cover evolution in the atmosphere and identify the fundamental physical and chemical process that drive those.
The program was awarded with 1,144 hours of Spitzer telescope time and 24 orbits of Hubble Space Telescope time.

Extrasolar Storms resulted in multiple refereed publications, including our Science paper in 2018 identifying the beating of planetary-scale waves as the mechanism driving the light curve evolution in brown dwarfs.