Observing the Structure, Evolution, and Habitability of Low-Mass Exoplanets
Zachory K. Berta-Thompson
Torres Fellow for Exoplanetary Research, MIT Kavli Institute
The Milky Way is teeming with planets smaller than Neptune but bigger than Earth. Yet with no such planets in our own Solar System, our understanding of the composition, formation, and habitability of these alien worlds is still sketchy. After presenting the confusing portrait painted by the few available measurements of the masses, radii, and atmospheres of these small planets, I will highlight how telescopes like Hubble, Kepler, and Magellan might help clarify the picture through deep observations of a few already known exoplanets. Our best opportunity to fill in the details, however, will be to find more small planets transiting nearby, small stars. Such easy-to-observe systems would be the best targets for atmospheric characterization with JWST, potentially enabling the first detection of molecules in the atmosphere of a habitable planet. I will report progress from two ongoing efforts to find these planets before the launch of JWST: the ground-based MEarth Project, searching the smallest stars for cool transiting planets, and the all-sky Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission, launching in 2017 to find the nearest and brightest transiting exoplanet systems.
Date: Thursday, 30 October 2014 Time: 11:30 Where: Université de Montréal Pavillon Roger-Gaudry, local D-460 Contact: Marie-Eve Naud