The project "Hot Molecules in exoplanets and inner disks" was initially funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant during 2012-2017. It is now continued at the Kiepenheuer Institut fuer Sonnenphysik, Freiburg, Germany, with broad applications of molecular physics and polarized light remote sensing in astrophysics and astrobiology. PI: Prof. Dr. Svetlana Berdyugina

ERC Advanced Grant

The ERC is a European funding initiative (, designed to support the best scientists, engineers and scholars in Europe. Its advanced grant scheme is highly competitive and awarded on the sole criterion of excellence to promote frontier research with unconventional approaches and at the interface between established disciplines.


Project News


Detecting non-terran life in the universe, April 12-13, 2018 :

How can we detect exolife that is very different from that on the Earth? Possibilities for non-terran life and its detection have been discussed at the Breakthrough Discuss Symposium, Mountain View, CA, USA. The dedicated Session with talks on laboratory experiments, numerical simulations and biosignatures and a follow up panel discussion were co-organized and chaired by S. Berdyugina.
Watch video


Exoplanet Terra Incognita, Feb 2018 :

A review of techniques and projects dedicated to mapping surfaces of exoplanets, such as ExoPlanet Surface Imaging, Exo-Life Finder, Solar Gravitational Lense Telescope, and Starshot projects. To appear in the book on Planet Cartography,


ExoLife Finder Telescope (ELF), Jan 2018 :

Astrobiology White Paper for ELF, submitted to the call by National Academy of Science (NAS), USA. ELF is a hybrid interferometric extremely large telescope dedicated to exoplanet characterization and search for life on exoplanets.


The mysterious "Boyajian's Star" goes dark again, Jan 2018 :

HotMol team has carried out polarimetric measurements of a mysterious star KIC 8462852 discovered by the Kepler mission to show extremely deep and irregular brightness dips. These events were attributed to asteroid-like eclipses or even to possible artificial large-scale space-constructions by an alien civilization.
Read more..


ExoPlanet Surface Imaging (EPSI), Nov 2017 :

A new technique to spatially resolve indirectly surfaces of exoplanets and detect continents, oceans, and life colonies with high confidence.


Space Weathering of Super-Earths, Oct 2017 :

Rocky exoplanets are expected to be eroded by space weather in a similar way as in the solar system. Due to solar wind impact, micrometeorite impacts, photo-stimulated desorption and thermal desorption, atoms are released from the surface regolith. They are dragged anti-star-ward and form a tail structure, like in the case of Mercury. The hot super-Earth 61 Vir b orbiting a G3V star at only 0.05 AU may show a similar structure.
Read more..


Help find life in the universe! Sep 5 - Oct 8, 2017 :

Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to support technology development for the ExoLife Finder (ELF) telescope has been successful! We have reached our funding goal and gained hundreds of supporters.
Donate here


First detection of a strong magnetic field on a Brown Dwarf, Sep 2017 :

We have detected for the first time a strong magnetic field on a brown dwarf, using polarization measurements in atomic and molecular lines This brown dwarf being possibly very young, about 20 Million years old, exhibits transient non-thermal radio and optical emission bursts. Our study paves a path towards magnetic studies of hot Jupiters of similar temperatures.
Read more..


Biohaze as Atmospheric Biosignature of Exoplanets, Apr 24, 2017 :

How can life residing in exoplanetary atmospheres be detected? Modeling results for a biohaze containing photosynthetic pigments are presented in the talk by S. Berdyugina at Astrobiology Science Conference, AZ, USA.
Watch video


Surface Imaging of Proxima b and other exoplanets, Apr 21, 2017 :

A new numerical technique to map surfaces of exoplanets applied to Proxima b and exo-Earths is presented in the invited talk by S. Berdyugina at the Breakthrough Discuss Symposium, Mountain View, CA, USA. The technique requires high-contrast measurements with extremely large telescopes, such as ExiLife Finder (ELF).
Watch video


Exolife Hangouts, continued from 2017 :

Biweekly live hangouts on extraterrestrial life (exolife) hosted by the Deep Astronomy and PLANETS Foundation Guest scientists researching in exoplanets, astrobiology, technologies for large telescopes and space travel are invited to discuss hot topics. Questions from audience are answered during the discussion.
Youtube videos


From Molecules to Life, February 13-17, 2017:

HotMol project organizes Multi-disciplinary International Winter School "From Molecules to Life: Molecules in Astrophysics and Astrobiology". Lectures and exercises cover topics from molecular physics and chemistry to astrophysics, astrochmestry, biochemistry and astrobiology. We also offer professional development workshops.
See program here


Finding life on Planets: Proxima b, August 29, 2016:

A series of Live Hangouts with the PLANETS Foundation, including discussion about the nearest, recently discovered exo-Earth candidate Proxima b, radial velocity detection technique, and the Breakthrough Initiative to send an interstellar probe mission to Alpha Centauri.
Watch videos


Communication with Alien Life, public talk by S. Berdyugina, July 15, 2016:

Communication is essential for the survival, propagation and evolution of life. Aliens must also communicate among themselves – how might we communicate with them? Will the messages we have sent into space be understood. Terrestrial interspecies communication offers some clues to answering these questions, vital for understanding how extraterrestrial life and intelligence can be detected and recognized.
Watch video


Unique protoplanet leftover from the inner Solar system, April 29, 2016:

In cooperation with an international team of astronomers, we have have found a unique object that appears to be made of inner Solar System material from the time of Earth’s formation, which has been preserved in the Oort Cloud far from the Sun for billions of years. The tailless Manx comet from Oort Cloud C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) is the first object to be discovered on a long-period cometary orbit that has the characteristics of a pristine inner Solar System asteroid. It may provide important clues about how the Solar System formed. This object formed in the inner Solar System at the same time as the Earth itself, but was ejected at a very early stage and preserved in the deep freeze of the Oort Cloud for billions of years.


Uranus imaging polarimetry at GREGOR, March 2016:

GREGOR is a modern 1.5m solar telescope on Tenerife operated by KIS. It is also highly suitable for observing the planets of our solar system. We have built GREGOR Planet Polarimeter (GPP) new instrument to study properties of the planetary atmospheres. GPP allows for high-precision polarisation measurements of the light reflected by the planets. In order to reach a high spatial resolution, the instrument uses the adaptive-optics system (AO) of the telescope. For this purposes, the AO normally used for solar observations had to be extended with an additional wave-front sensor for observing the much fainter objects at night. In November 2015, polarisation measurements of Uranus in different spectral ranges were recorded.


The HotMol project at the German news channel SWR, February 2016:

In this short video (in German) you can see how the project leader Svetlana Berdyugina with Martin Schwesinger, MSc student, make polarimetric measurments of new biomarkers for detection of extraterrestrial life.


Intensity and polarization in spherical atmospheres, January 2016:

The distribution of the intensity and polarization of a light from the center to the limb of a star is one of the important parameters needed for the interpretation of the light curves of transiting exoplanets or eclipsing binary stars, as well as interferometric measurements of a star or microlensing events. Scattering and absorption processes in stellar atmosphere affect both the center-to limb variation of intensity (CLVI) and polarization (CLVP).


Brightening event seen in Jupiter’s extended sodium nebula, October 2015:

Jupiter’s sodium nebula, which originates from Io’s volcanic gas, shows variations in its brightness due to the volcanic activity on Io. Imaging observation of D-line brightness in the sodium nebula was performed from 2013 through 2015 in a conjunction with the HISAKI mission. The D-line brightness of the sodium nebula had been stably faint and dim until January 2015, but it showed a distinct enhancement from February through March, 2015. The brightness increased by three times during this enhancement


Is there life in the Alpha Centauri system?, August 5, 2015:

Our proposed sensitive technique for detecting photosynthetic organisms in extrasolar planetary systems can be employed for searching for life signatures in the nearest to the Sun triple stellar system of Alpha Centauri!


Optical and radio aurorae at the end of the stellar main sequence, July 30, 2015:

Aurorae are detected from all the magnetized planets in our Solar System, including Earth. They are powered by magnetospheric current systems that lead to the precipitation of energetic electrons into the high-latitude regions of the upper atmosphere. In the case of the gas-giant planets, these aurorae include highly polarized radio emission at kilohertz and megahertz frequencies produced by the precipitating electrons, as well as continuum and line emission in the infrared, optical, ultraviolet and X-ray parts of the spectrum, associated with the collisional excitation and heating of the hydrogen-dominated atmosphere.


Congratulations to Dr. Oleksii Kuzmychov, July 22, 2015:

The HotMol PhD student Oleksii Kuzmychov has successfully defended his thesis "Spectropolarimetric approach to measuring magnetic fields on brown dwarfs" using the CrH molecule as a probe. He has computed quantum mechanical model of complex magnetic perturbations on this molecule, analysed spectropolarimetric data of an active brown dwarf and detected magnetic field on it. The results are to be published in a series of papers.


LIGHT! An introduction to modern Physics of Light, European Summer School, July 5-11, 2015:

The HotMol project is co-organizing and participating in the European Summer School, "LIGHT ! An introduction to modern Physics of Light", which is part of the International Year of Light. It takes place in Strasbourg, France and Freiburg, Germany.


Polarization from planetary systems during transits, April 2015:

We have investigated how transiting exoplanets might induce some polarimetric effects by breaking the symmetry of the intensity integrated over the stellar disk. In addition, since these stars are likely to have stellar spots being able to break this symmetry, we took their presence into account in our models. We have modeled these effects for many exoplanets and identified a few candidates for future measurements using advanced polarimeters which should have sensitivity better than 10^-6. The results have been accepted for publication in ApJ (Kostogryz, Yakobchuk, & Berdyugina 2015).


Molecules as probes of cool magnetic spots, March 2015:

Stellar magnetic activity and starspots severely affect detection and characterization of exoplanets as well as their suitability for life. Therefore, studying stellar magnetism is an important task for astrobiology as well. We employ molecular lines to probe cool magnetic regions (starspots) and model MgH, TiO, CaH, and FeH molecular transitions as diagnostics for G-K-M stars. The results have been published in our recent paper in A&A (Afram & Berdyugina 2015)


Imaging polarimetry of planets at the GREGOR telescope, October 2014

Description: GREGOR_uranus_stokes_image

We have carried out first successful observations of planets in the Solar system with a prototype of our new imaging polarimeter to be deployed at the 1.5m GREGOR solar telescope, Tenerife. A special night-time adaptive optics (AO) system was developed for this instrument. The work will continue to calibrate the telescope polarization and instrument components.


Are we special? Searching for life in the Universe, TEDxMaui, September 2014:

Svetlana Berdyugina has given an invited a talk “Are we special? Searching for life in the Universe” at a world-renown TED Conference which has taken place on Maui, September 28, 2014. She presented her ideas on how to find extraterrestrial life and what are the challenges to be overcome.
See Youtube video


Successful deployment of the DIPOL-2 polarimeter at the Tohoku 60cm telescope, Haleakala, December 2014:

The DIPOL-2 polarimeter was successfully installed as a guest instrument at the 60cm Tohoku University (Japan) telescope. Observing runs were carried out in 2015  in cooperation with the University of Turku, Finland, and Tohoku University, Japan. Observing programs included several exoplanets. The polarimetric accuracy of 10^-5 was achieved for bright targets. Previous measurements with other telescopes were confirmed. The data are being analyzed and prepared for publication.

Successful observing runs with the DIPOL-2 polarimeter at the UH88 telescope, Mauna Kea, in 2014:

Several successful observing runs in 2014 were carried out using our DIPOL-2 polarimeter as a guest instrument at the 2.2 m University of Hawaii telescope (UH88), Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in cooperation with the University of Turku, Finland, and UH. Observing programs included a number of exoplanets. The polarimetric accuracy of 10^-5 was achieved. The results are being analyzed and prepared for publication.


Successful deployment of the DIPOL-2 polarimeter at the WHT, La Palma, May 2014:

A successful observing run was carried out using our DIPOL-2 polarimeter as a guest instrument at the 4m William Herschel Telescope (WHT), La Palma, in cooperation with the University of Turku, Finland, and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain. Observing program included exoplanets and brown dwarfs. The polarimetric accuracy of 10^-5 was achieved for a 10 magnitude star.

Models for stellar limb polarization and transiting planets, May 2014:

Our theoretical study of stellar limb polarization provides first realistic estimates of stellar intrinsic polarization during planet transits and due to presence of cool spots on the stellar surface. The results were presented at the Astronomical Polarimetry Workshop in Grenoble (Kostogryz & Berdyugina 2014).


TEDxMaui, May 2014:

Svetlana Berdyugina is invited to give a talk at a world-renown TED Conference which will take place in Maui on September 28, 2014. She will talk on how to find extraterrestrial life.


A new technique for remote sensing of life based on photosynthetic pigments, April 2014:

Our laboratory study demonstrates that biopigments show prominent spectral signatures in polarized light. These are new biomarkers for detection of extraterrestrial life. The results are submitted for publication to the International Journal of Astrobiology (Berdyugina et al. 2014).


Successful commissioning of the DIPOL-2 polarimeter at the UH 2.2m telescope, Mauna Kea, April 2014:

The DIPOL-2 polarimeter was successfully commissioned as a guest instrument at the 2.2m University of Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in cooperation with the University of Turku, Finland, and Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, USA. First observing runs are scheduled for June and July 2014 and will be dedicated to measuring polarized reflected light from hot Jupiters. The DIPOL-2 description is presented in the
SPIE paper.



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    Kiepenheuer-Institut für Sonnenphysik
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