ERC Starting Grant

Detection and characterization of Earth-like exoplanets


Michaël Gillon, FRS-FNRS Senior Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics, Geophysics and Oceanography (ASTROBIOLOGY Research Unit), has been selected to receive the coveted ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council. Named SPECULOOS - Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars - the young researcher's project consists of installing 2 telescopes to detect planets similar to our Earth.


he €2 million ERC Starting Grant, awarded to the SPECULOOS project (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars to search for habitable planets eclipsing ultra-cold stars), will enable the installation of two new ULiège telescopes in the Atacama desert in Chile. These telescopes will be used to search for terrestrial exoplanet transits of Earth-like sizes around ultra-cold stars. To date, no such transit has been detected, while ultra-cool drwarf stars, due to their lower mass, size, brightness and temperature, increase the possibilities of detecting atmospheric biosignatures of habitable exoplanets from Earth, using transit technology. The interest and validity of this technique has been demonstrated by studies on about fifty ultra-freezing stars conducted by the ULiège astrophysics team using the TRAPPIST telescope, also installed in the Atacama. The "first light" of the SPECULOOS telescopes is scheduled for 2015. In the field of "Physical Sciences & Engineering", only slightly more than 8% of the projects submitted in this call, including the two from ULg, were selected (126 out of 1486).

ERC Starting Grants

ERC Starting Grants are major instruments deployed by the European Research Council to fund frontier research projects in Europe, stimulating scientific excellence and creativity among young researchers. The highly selective procedure selects only the best researchers and research projects of the highest level, combining audacity and competence to tackle new avenues of research likely, if successful, to substantially enrich knowledge.

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