Michaël Gillon, exoplanet hunter
Are we alone in the universe? This is the question to which astronomer and astrophysicist emeritus Michaël Gillon has dedicated his career. From discovery to discovery, the exoplanet hunter is opening up a new path for astronomy.
Michaël Gillon was born in 1974 in Liège. Although he was fascinated by the stars and the universe at an early age, his career began with seven years in the Belgian Army. He ended his military career due to health problems and found refuge in reading scientific works. Still driven by the same question - are we alone in the universe? - he returned to university at the age of 24 and began studying biology at ULiège. He left university with a Master's degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in astrophysics and set off to conduct postdoctoral research at the Observatory of the University of Geneva. In Switzerland, he joined the team of Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, both of whom were awarded a Nobel Prize (2019) for discovering the first exoplanet orbiting a star, in which Gillon participated.
Three years later, he returned to the University of Liège, where he continued his work on the detection of exoplanets, which are planets outside the solar system. In 2017, leading the TRAPPIST project, he was the first to detect a multi-planetary system. The discovery was made possible by telescopes, including the Liège telescope TRAPPIST-Sud (Chile). The successful project would lead to numerous publications as well as the detection of around 30 exoplanets. The Belgian's work has had significant consequences for astronomy and his major contribution to the study of exoplanets demonstrates the importance of Belgian astrophysical research on an international scale.
Today, he is an FNRS research supervisor in the AGO department at ULiège and continues his cutting-edge work, which has already earned him several awards, including the Chevalier du Mérite Wallon and the Balzan Prize (Bern). In 2021, he was awarded the Francqui Prize, the most important scientific award in Belgium, and the "Walloon of the Year" award. As the importance of his research extends to the international level, he has been awarded an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal by NASA.
His ultimate goal has not changed to this day, namely to study the atmosphere of potentially habitable planets. His quest is far from over, as the TRAPPIST and Speculoos telescopes will continue to scan our skies in search of other planetary systems...
Photo © ULiège-M.Houet