You what?

Dominic Ford

I struggle to see how you come to that conclusion, Roger.

On the ground, professionals have NGTS, WASP, HAT, KELT, not the mention several smaller exoplanet search programs. In space, professionals have TESS, soon to be joined by CHEOPS, and later PLATO. Right now, professional exoplanet search programmes are incredibly active, and will remain so for at least the next decade. Probably far beyond.

There’s relatively little professional effort going into biosignatures, because it’s basically impossible to detect them with current technology. Yes, people have pointed large telescopes (e.g. the VLT) with high-resolution spectrographs at bright stars, and picked up spectral lines in exoplanet atmospheres (NB: abundant things like water, not “biosignatures”). It’s impressive work, but only possible for a handful of the brightest stars, orbited by very large planets. When the ELT comes online in 2024, it will be possible for more stars, but we’ll still be talking about molecules like water and methane in the atmospheres of small numbers of giant planets.

I’m puzzled by this talk of amateur opportunities for the “discovery of exoplanets”. The best amateurs can achieve right now is to observe predicted deep transits, if they squint really hard at their photometry. That’s already very difficult, and far short of actually discovering a transit you didn’t already know about. Perhaps you’ll prove me wrong, but I’d consider my money pretty safe if I bet that there will be no amateur exoplanet discoveries in the next decade. Unless you plan to build a replica of the NGTS in your back garden…