Exoplanet studies have come a long way in a short time. To date, 5,523 exoplanets have been confirmed in 4,117 systems, with another 9,867 candidates awaiting confirmation. With all these planets available for study, exoplanet researchers have been shifting their focus from detection to characterization—i.e., looking for potential signs of life and biological activity (biosignatures).

Some major breakthroughs are expected in the coming years, thanks in part to next-generation observatories like NASA's James Webb and Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the ESA's PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission.

Several ground-based facilities will also be vital to the characterization of exoplanets, like the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). But there are also existing observatories that could be upgraded to perform vital research.

This idea was explored in a recent paper by an international team of astronomers, who presented the first light results of the High-Resolution Imaging and Spectroscopy of Exoplanets (HiRISE) recently installed on the ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT)—not to be confused with the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The study was led by Dr. Arthur Vigan, a permanent researcher with the Centre Nationale Reserches Scientifique based at the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille. He was joined by researchers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), the Academia Sinica, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the UH Institue for Astronomy, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), and multiple universities and laboratories. A preprint of their paper recently appeared online and is being reviewed for publication by the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

To read more, click here.