Astronomers at the Centre for Star and Planet Formation are set to test the uniqueness of terrestrial planet formation, by providing a better assessment of the distribution of Earth-like exoplanets in our galaxy using a range of techniques, including gravitational microlensing and the transit method. This strategic search for habitable exoplanets may soon allow us to answer one of the key questions of the center's research theme: Is the formation of rocky planets a likely outcome of planetary systems and low mass star formation?
The exoplanet field has also begun its transition from a mostly discovery-oriented discipline into a new age of characterization. In particular, the transiting exoplanets allow a wealth of information to be extracted, yielding data about their planetary properties, including their masses, radii and, by extension, their bulk densities. We are involved in characterising the structure of exoplanets with sizes that are between that of Earth and Neptune, using a two-step approach allowing coverage of the full regime of masses. This information will allow us to determine what fraction of the smaller planets have, similar to Earth, a thin atmosphere and a solid surface possibly covered with liquid water, in contrast to Neptunian-like exoplanets with a thick gaseous atmosphere hostile to life as we know it on Earth.