RESEARCH

Projects

Exo-Planet Search Project Office

Exo-Planet Search Project Office searches for a habitable, Earth-like planet (“Another Earth”) around a cool star (M dwarf), using the Subaru telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, on which a newly-developed near-infrared high-dispersion spectrograph (IRD) was installed. We have developed two instruments for direct-imaging surveys of planets beyond the Solar System and protoplanetary disks: i) the Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics (SCExAO), which efficiently removes effects of the atmospheric turbulence, and ii) Coronagraphic High Angular Resolution Imaging Spectrograph (CHARIS), i.e., the Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS) for the Subaru. Our high-contrast imaging observations have been successful in finding distant planets (e.g. GJ 504b) and revealing disk structures such as spiral arms and gaps. Also, in collaboration with overseas researchers, we aim to characterize atmospheres of transiting planets though multi-color simultaneous photometry (MuSCAT-1, 2, and 3) and unveil disk morphology using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

Astrobiology Instrument Project Office

We have been developing new astronomical instruments for the Subaru telescope of National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in Hawaii for exoplanetary science. We are operating the instruments, SCExAO (Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics for direct imaging of exoplanets and protoplanetary disks) and IRD (InfraRed Doppler instrument to search for Earth-like planets around low-mass stars by light signals Doppler-shifted by the planets from stars in near-infrared wavelength). We also technically support researchers all over the world to conduct exoplanet observations using the two instruments for the Subaru telescope. Moreover, to observe Earth-like planets around stars and detect biosignature on other planets as well as the Earth, we are newly developing exciting instruments for next-generation, extremely large telescopes (e.g. Thirty Meter Telescope: TMT) and future space telescope missions (e.g. WFIRST). Toward the forthcoming projects, we are prepering “Instruments for Astrobiology” to answer the fundamental questions, “Are we alone in the universe? Is there any life beyond the Earth?”.

Exo-Life Search Project Office

To elucidate the mystery about the birth of life and its evolution in the universe, the Exo-Life Search Project Office is promoting interdisciplinary studies on astrobiology by bringing together ideas of biology (e.g. molecular biology, physiology, ecology and mathematical biology) and astronomy. As the first step toward revealing the origin of life in the universe, we are exploring amino acids, which are essential for life, in the interstellar space by radio wave observations. We also aim to identify observable biosignatures as scientific evidence that life exists in exoplanets. Specifically, we target both Sun-like stars and M dwarfs to study planetary habitability because many exoplanets have been found around M dwarfs; in contrast to Sun-like stars, M dwarfs have strong near-infrared emissions. We have explored the possibility that oxygen can be produced by photosynthesis on a planet around an M dwarf and the detectability of the so-called “red-edge” in the reflection light from photosynthetic pigments. Also, our important research subject is whether life on the other planets in the solar system and their satellites exists or not.

Annual Reports