Research Groups

Laboratoy of Exoplanets Imaging and Adaptive Optics (LEIAO)


Exoplanet discoveries have fascinated the public for over two decades now, yet most detections are actually indirect, with only a dozen planetary mass companions having been directly imaged so far. Being able to image a planet in orbit around its host star, in context within its own mature or nascent solar system, is simultaneously fascinating, scientifically invaluable, and still technologically very difficult to this day. The RACE-GO project intends to provide a breakthrough contribution ahead of the upcoming 40-m class “extremely large” telescopes, so one day we can hope to see a “pale blue dot” analog elsewhere in our galactic neighborhood, hence helping to answer questions such as “Are we alone?”.

RACE-GO aims at bridging the latest digital liquid crystal display technologies with the exoplanet imager instruments currently equipping the largest ground-based astronomical telescopes. By combining the fastest active liquid crystal optical modulators with the best high-speed infrared cameras currently available, RACE-GO will explore the milli-second time domain to distinguish between residual optical errors from the Earth atmosphere, and true astrophysical signals in the close vicinity of the targeted star (exoplanet, circumstellar disk etc.). In practice, RACE-GO will fund an upgrade to the upcoming PLACID* imaging instrument, built by a consortium of the University of Bern and the HEIG-VD in Yverdon, for the new DAG 4-m telescope in Turkey, using 60 guaranteed time observing (GTO) nights spread over two years to validate the approach on-sky, before bringing the technology onto 8-m observatories and possibly the 40-m European extremely large telescope (E-ELT).

The “RACE-GO” research project was awarded an ERC Consolidator grant (2021 call), but is funded by the Swiss Secretariat for Research and Innovation (SERI), due to the discontinued participation of Switzerland to the Horizon Europe program since mid-2021.

(*) PLACID = Programmable Liquid-crystal Active Coronagraphic Imager for the DAG telescope