Ongoing work and recent results
The Antarctic plateau is expected to offer outstanding conditions for astronomy due to an extremely low atmospheric precipitable water content, low optical turbulence in the atmosphere and good weather statistics. In combination with the polar night, which allows for uninterrupted observations for more than three months, Antarctic sites are therefore especially promising for long time series observations such as the transit search for extrasolar planets.
The ASTEP project (Antarctic Search for Transiting ExoPlanets) is designed to access the photometric quality achievable from Antarctica and to search for exoplanets. It consists of a 40cm Newton telescope which has been installed at the Concordia station at Dome C (3233m) in Autumn 2009 and observed during the polar night 2010. A smaller precursor instrument, ASTEPsouth, was already operating at Dome C in 2008 and 2009.
The ASTEP consortium is lead by the Observatoire de Côte d’Azur (OCA) in Nice. Our group contributes with its expertise in photometric data reduction in two ways: First, the working BEST II software pipeline is being shared with OCA, and participating scientists have been trained in using it during visits to Nice in 2009. Second, DLR will have access to all data collected by the ASTEP project and search for transit events in parallel to other members of the team.
Furthermore, studies by our group have shown that the excellent duty cycle of Dome C could be even further increased by joint observations of ASTEP and a mid-latitude site such as BEST II in Chile of the same target field. Such a project would give a realistic chance to find transiting planets with periods of up to two weeks, i.e. in orbits that would usually be out of reach for networks with less than three stations. Joint observations on several targets have been performed in 2010 in order to access this potential - the results are currently being analysed.
ASTEP Homepage: http://fizeau.unice.fr/astep/
Official Website Concordia station (italian): http://www.concordiabase.eu/
Information about Dome C: http://www.gdargaud.net/Antarctica/DomeC.html