The discovery of extrasolar planets is one of the major scientific advances of the last two decades. Hundreds of planets have now been detected and astronomers are beginning to characterize their composition and physical characteristics. To do this requires a huge quantity of spectroscopic data most of which are not available from laboratory studies. The ExoMol project will offer a comprehensive solution to this problem by providing spectroscopic data on all the molecular transitions of importance in the atmospheres of exoplanets. These data will be widely applicable to other problems and will be used for studies on cool stars, brown dwarfs and circumstellar environments. This paper lays out the scientific foundations of this project and reviews previous work in this area.
A mixture of first principles and empirically tuned quantum mechanical methods will be used to compute comprehensive and very large rotation–vibration and rotation–vibration–electronic line lists. Methodologies will be developed for treating larger molecules such as methane and nitric acid. ExoMol will rely on these developments and the use of state-of-the-art computing.