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Scientific activities / projects, PhD position

Measuring the tidal orbital decay of transiting

Starting date

1 May 2021

Duration of contract

3 years


according to German TVöD 13

Type of employment


At the Department of Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres at the Institute of Planetary Research (Berlin, Germany), we analyse photometric time-series data to detect and characterize exoplanets, and develop numerical models to describe their light curves, shapes and atmospheres.

Hot Jupiters were the first class of exoplanet to be discovered, 25 years ago, but they remain at the forefront of much of exoplanetary science today. These gas giant planets orbit so close to their host stars, that they are expected to tidally interact with their host stars, resulting in a transfer of angular momentum from the planet’s orbit to the star’s rotation. The effect of this is for the planet to slowly spiral towards its star, and eventual destruction.

Many hot Jupiters have been detected using the transit method, where the planet passes in front of its star, blocking a fraction of its light, which can be detected using telescopes both on the ground and in space. The same technique can be used to measure the shrinking orbits of hot Jupiters undergoing tidal orbital decay. Transit observations spread over several years allow minuscule changes in the orbital period (time between successive transits) to be measured.

This PhD project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of its Priority Programme ‘Exploring theDiversity of Extrasolar Planets’ (SPP 1992). With access to data from CHEOPS, the European Space Agency’s newest space telescope, and from the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) – a world-leading facility for exoplanet observations located in Chile’s Atacama desert, you will search for the signals of orbital decay, and attempt to measure the tidal quality factor of their host stars. You will work towards improving our understanding of star-planet tidal interaction, which has implications for many astrophysical processes, such as planetary migration.

You will be responsible for a wide variety of tasks including planning observations, reducing and analysing astronomical data, developing and fitting models to newly-acquired and archival data, interpreting results, applying for telescope time on other facilities, and reporting your results at conferences and via research papers. Within the department of Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres of the Institute of Planetary Research, you will work primarily with Dr. Alexis Smith. Informal queries may be made to Alexis.Smith@dlr.de.

Your qualifications:

  • Masters degree (or equivalent) in physics, astronomy, astrophysics, or similar field
  • experience of scientific programming in a high-level language, such as python, IDL, Fortran or C++
  • basic knowledge of stellar and/or exoplanetary astrophysics
  • data analysis experience
  • familiarity with basic astronomical image reduction techniques and/or experience with photometric time series is desirable
  • experience of astronomical observing / observation planning is desirable
  • ability to work individually, and together as part of relatively large international teams
  • good command of the English language, excellent communication skills, including the ability to write in English. German language skills are welcome, but not required

Your benefits:

Look forward to a fulfilling job with an employer who appreciates your commitment and supports your personal and professional development. Our unique infrastructure offers you a working environment in which you have unparalleled scope to develop your creative ideas and accomplish your professional objectives. Our human resources policy places great value on a healthy family and work-life-balance as well as equal opportunities for persons of all genders (f/m/x). Individuals with disabilities will be given preferential consideration in the event their qualifications are equivalent to those of other candidates.

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Technical contact

Dr. Juan Cabrera Perez
Institute of Planetary Research

Phone: +49 30 67055-439

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Vacancy 55055

HR department Berlin

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DLR site Berlin

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DLR Institute of Planetary Research

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