Exoplanets and Origins of Life


The MERMOZ (Monitoring planEtary suRfaces with Modern pOlarimetric characteriZation) project aims to investigate whether we can identify and characterize Earth's life from space, by building a benchmark library of surface feature signatures with remote full-Stokes spectro-polarimetry. In this framework, our planet is considered as a proxy for other solar system bodies and exoplanets. The project's feasibility study took place between 2018 and 2020, with the aim of conducting a “pre-phase A” study for a space pathfinder mission. Our FlyPol instrument successfully performed a 25-min flight aboard an helicopter to assess concept feasibility in a harsh operational environment (incl. airframe vibrations, stray light, pressure & temperature variations). Multiple signatures of living organisms were recorded and we are able to clearly distinguish the four types of scenes overflown by our experiment from each other: grass fields, forests, lakes and urban areas. None of the life-driven spectral features are visible for the urban areas, which mixes rooftops and roads.
Our flight campaign demonstrated the ability of our experiment to distinguish biotic from abiotic sources in an operational setting, validating the MERMOZ concept. One outcome of this work is a  proposal for a pathfinder space mission, which is currently under review with a launch foreseen in 2024.

Capitalising on the successful FlyPol instrument, we built FlyPol+, which is an upgrade that includes linear polarization capability. It is also the instrumental baseline for the MERMOZ space mission. We commissioned the instrument in Fall 2020 and the first results show marked improvement in polarimetric sensitivity compared to FlyPol.
will be used for a large flight campaign due to take place in Spring 2021.

MERMOZ is a project in partnership between the Universities of Bern, Leiden and Delft (NL).

The project's feasibility study is funded by the Centre for Space and Habitability (CSH) and the NCCR PlanetS.