Our group is directly involved in the scientific and technical development of the CHEOPS (ESA), CUTE (NASA), and PLATO (ESA) missions, in addition to the POLLUX (CNES) high-resolution UV spectropolarimeter designed to be part of the instrument suite for the LUVOIR (NASA) mission concept.

Multiwavelength Exoplanet Atmophseric Characterization

Transiting planets offer unique opportunities for the study of exoplanet atmospheres, as we can observe them passing in front and behind their host star. Transit observations allow one to study the composition of planetary atmospheres in great detail, as the stellar light is filtered through the planetary atmosphere on its way to the observer. Spectrally resolved transit observations allow one to probe the planetary transmission spectrum and infer the atmospheric structure, dynamics, and the elemental and molecular signatures contained in it.

During an occultation, instead, the host star blocks the flux emerging from the planetary dayside. By comparing the flux in- and out-of occultation, one can measure the planet-to-star brightness ratio. Observations in different pass-bands yield a measure of the planetary emission spectrum, which encodes information on planetary atmospheric structure, composition, and energy balance.

Our team is involved in a number of projects using the above techniques to study bright transiting systems with close-in planets. We are using multi-wavelength observations from ground- and space-based facilities (ESO/VLT, Gemini, Spitzer, and HST) to study the atmospheres of key exoplanets in transmission and emission, and detect the absorption and scattering signatures of chemical elements, molecules and haze components. For example, using the ESO/VLT, we have been conducting CHEWIE (Clouds, Hazes and Elements vieWed on gIant Exoplanets), an ambitious multi-season observing program dedicated to the study of aerosols in giant planet atmospheres.

We use ultraviolet observations obtained with HST to characterize the physical and chemical properties of the upper atmosphere of close-in planets to constrain atmospheric escape and evolution models. We also develop and compute upper atmosphere hydrodynamic models with the aim of studying planetary atmospheric evolution. We observe and study both gaseous and rocky close-in planets through transmission spectroscopy.

We also study the star–planet interaction phenomenon by measuring stellar activity at different wavelengths looking for magnetic and physical interactions.


The CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS) is an S-class ESA mission dedicated to the photometric study of extrasolar planets. CHEOPS is currently foreseen for launch towards the end of 2018, beginning of 2019, and will observe planetary systems with an unprecedented photometric precision.

The main science goals of CHEOPS are to find transits of small planets, known to exist from radial-velocity surveys, measure precise radii for a large sample of planets to study the nature of Neptune- to Earth-sized planets, and obtain precise observations of transiting giant planets to study their atmospheric properties. Detailed information can be found at this web site:

Our institute is heavily involved in the CHEOPS mission, where one of the engineering groups has developed and built one of the two on-board computers. Our team is involved in the preparation of the CHEOPS mission at the core science team level (performing observation feasibility modeling, understanding the host star properties and photometric behavior, and CHEOPS observing program definition).

Within the context of the CHEOPS mission, our group is currently running a theoretical and observational project aiming at predicting the radius (mass) of hydrogen-dominated sub-Neptune planets (< 12 Earth masses) on the basis of the measured mass (radius). With this project we aim also at predicting the planets' atmospheric evolution and presence of high-altitude clouds or hazes (e.g., cloud/haze altitude).

Our team is also specifically involved in the mission's science program dedicated to exoplanet characterization. We coordinate CHEOPS observations related to detecting reflected stellar light, measuring planetary albedos, study the mass-radius relation for small rocky planet, and atmospheric escape. We further carry out a project to study the photometric variability induced by stellar granulation and Solar-type pulsations. To this end, we quantify the effects of stellar variability, their impact on CHEOPS's scientific performance and devise optimal data analysis strategies to maximize scientific return.


The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE) is a 6U NASA CubeSat carrying on board a low resolution near ultraviolet (251.5 – 333.5 nm) spectrograph fed by a Cassegrain telescope with a rectangular primary mirror, to maximise the collecting area.

CUTE, which will be launched in Spring 2020, is specifically designed to monitor transit events of extra-solar planets orbiting bright, nearby stars to study exoplanet atmospheric escape. CUTE will carry out exactly the kind of spectroscopic observations that are urgently needed to further understand planet atmospheric escape and will bridge the gap in ultraviolet exoplanet observations between HST and the next major space telescope with ultraviolet capabilities. Detailed information can be found at this web site:

Our group is heavily involved in the CUTE mission at a scientific and engineering level. We are part of the CUTE science team, for which we work on the definition of the target list and on the development of data analysis tools. On the engineering side, our team is running a project which will result in the development of the mission data simulator and of the data reduction pipeline. The data simulator will be made available through the web and it has been constructed in such a way to be easily adaptable to any similar mission/instrument, regardless of the wavelength coverage and spectral resolution.

Atmospheric Modeling and Retrieval

Our team is part of the core developers of the Bayesian Atmospheric Radiative Transfer (BART) project, which consists of a radiative-transfer solver (Transit) coupled to a thermochemical equilibrium abundance code (TEA, project leaded by J. Blecic), and a Bayesian MCMC sampler (MC3). The BART code can compute forward-modeling exoplanet emission and transmission spectra including line-by-line, cross-section, alkali, Rayleigh, and cloud opacities. BART also works in a retrieval configuration to constrain the temperature and composition of exoplanet atmospheres upon comparing the theoretical spectra with observed eclipse or transit data.

BART is an open-source, open-development code available at under a Reproducible Research license. Each of the main components of BART —Transit, TEA, and MC3— work independently in a modular way, and thus, can be applied to a multitude scientific projects beyond their designed purpose. The following video shows an example of emission spectra computed with Transit:

Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences. Schmiedlstrasse 6, 8042 Graz, Austria.
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