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Franck Marchis

Franck Marchis

Franck Marchis

Franck Marchis has been a Principal Investigator at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute since July 2007. He joined the institute for a full time position in June 2011 after having a joint appointment with the department of astronomy of the University of California at Berkeley.

Over the past 15 years, he has dedicated his research to the study of our solar system using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics. The solar system is characterized by considerable diversity of its constituent bodies. Franck Marchis’ first involvement in the study of this diversity started in 1996 while working at the UNAM Astronomy Department in Mexico City. He made the first ground-based observations of the volcanoes on the jovian moon Io, using the first Adaptive Optics (AO) systems available on the European Southern Observatory (ESO) 3.6 m telescope at Chile’s La Silla Observatory. After a brief stay in London and four years in Chile at ESO, he completed in 2000 his PhD in a French university (Toulouse III) even if he has conducted his research in these three countries. His doctoral research described the application of adaptive optics to the study of the solar system.

He continued this explorative work at U. C. Berkeley where he had the opportunity to use the W.M. Keck 10 m telescope and its revolutionary Laser Guide Star AO system. In collaborations with astronomers of the Observatoire de Paris, he searched for, and studied moons around asteroids. In 2005, this team discovered the first triple asteroidal system composed of Sylvia, a 280-km size irregular asteroid, surrounded by two kilometer-size satellites named Romulus and Remus. The existence of multiple asteroid systems provides direct clues about the collisional past of the solar system and the formation of major planets. The direct measurement of the bulk density of an asteroid available when the moon’s orbit is well constrained give indications about the composition and distribution of material in the asteroid. In 2006, his group published in Nature the first density measurement of a Jupiter Trojan asteroid (617) Patroclus, which is similar to the density of comets and icy outer asteroids. This work implies that Trojan asteroids could be captured transneptunian objects due to the migration of the giant planets.

More recently Franck has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological, using fluorescence microscopy. His currently involved in the development of the Gemini Planet Imager, an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope which will be capable of imaging and record spectra of exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars.

His research involves both undergraduate and graduate students. Marchis is eager about contributing to the diversity of our science community and educating a new generation of researchers.

You can learn more about Franck and his research in his contributions to the blog at The Cosmic Diary or by visiting his SETI webpage.

Latest Planetary Radio Appearance

Imaging Hot Young Jupiters

October 06, 2015 • 28:50

Franck Marchis is on the team that has delivered an actual image of a young, hot world about 100 light years from Earth. We talk with him on the 20th anniversary of the first exoplanet discovery.

Latest Blog Posts

An update on the potential habitability of TRAPPIST-1

April 30, 2018

One year ago, Franck Marchis wrote an article about the remarkable discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Here's an update.

Another smoking gun in the search for life in Enceladus’ ocean

April 13, 2017

NASA's Cassini spacecraft sniffed out molecular hydrogen spewing from Enceladus' subsurface ocean. The discovery means Saturn's moon has all the basic ingredients needed to support life.

Wonderful potentially habitable worlds around TRAPPIST-1

February 22, 2017

Scientists have found seven, Earth-size planets orbiting a star just 40 light years away. Three lie in the habitable zone and could have water on their surfaces.

astronaut on Phobos
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