Public Lecture European Week of Astronomy and Space Science
Half a century ago, the Space Age began with the launching of the Sputnik. Now, at the completion of a fairly detailed study of the planets of our own solar system, we are at the dawn of the Age of Exoplanets. More than 300 exoplanets, i.e. planets orbiting a star different from our Sun, are now known thanks to indirect detection techniques.
In the first decade after their initial discovery, in 1995 by Mayor and Queloz, the task was to find more and more of these astronomical bodies: the biggest, the smallest; the hottest, the coolest. Molecules such as water, methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide have already been detected in the atmospheres of hot, giant exoplanets.
These planets are unsuitable for life, but the next generation of space telescopes - the James Webb Space Telescope - will guarantee the characterisation of fainter targets, in particular transiting large telluric planets (Super-Earths) in the habitable zone of stars colder than the Sun.