One of the most significant goals of modern science is establishing whether life exists around other suns. The most direct path towards its achievement is the detection and atmospheric characterization of terrestrial exoplanets with potentially habitable surface conditions. The nearest ultracool dwarfs (UCDs), i.e. very-low-mass stars and brown dwarfs with effective temperatures lower than 2700 K, represent a unique opportunity to reach this goal within the next decade. The potential of the transit method for detecting potentially habitable Earth-sized planets around these objects is drastically increased compared to Earth-Sun analogs. Furthermore, only a terrestrial planet transiting a nearby UCD would be amenable for a thorough atmospheric characterization, including the search for possible biosignatures, with near-future facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope. In this chapter, we first describe the physical properties of UCDs as well as the unique potential they offer for the detection of potentially habitable Earth-sized planets suitable for atmospheric characterization. Then, we present the SPECULOOS ground-based transit survey, that will search for Earth-sized planets transiting the nearest UCDs, as well as its prototype survey on the TRAPPIST telescopes. We conclude by discussing the prospects offered by the recent detection by this prototype survey of a system of seven temperate Earth-sized planets transiting a nearby UCD, TRAPPIST-1.
A. Burdanov, L. Delrez, M. Gillon, et. al.
Thu, 12 Oct 17
Comments: Submitted as a chapter in the “Handbook of Exoplanets” (editors: H. Deeg & J.A. Belmonte; Section Editor: N. Narita). 16 pages, 4 figures