Probing Exoplanet Atmospheric Properties from Phase Variations and Polarization
Laura Mayorga, NMSU
The study of exoplanets is evolving past simple transit and Doppler method discovery and characterization. One of the many goals of the upcoming mission WFIRST-AFTA is to directly image giant exoplanets with a coronagraph. We undertake a study to determine the types of exoplanets that missions such as WFIRST will encounter and what instruments these missions require to best characterize giant planet atmospheres. We will first complete a benchmark study of how Jupiter reflects and scatters light as a function of phase angle. We will use Cassini flyby data from late 2000 to measure Jupiter’s phase curve, spherical albedo, and degree of polarization. Using Jupiter as a comparison, we will then study a sample of exoplanet atmosphere models generated to explore the atmospheric parameter space of giant planets and estimate what WFIRST might observe. Our study will provide valuable refinements to Jupiter-like models of planet evolution and atmospheric composition. We will also help inform future missions of what instruments are needed to characterize similar planets and what science goals will further our knowledge of giant worlds in our universe.
Diagnosing the SEEDS of Planet Formation
John Wisniewski, University of Oklahoma
Circumstellar disks provide a useful astrophysical diagnostic of the formation and early evolution of exoplanets. It is commonly believed that young protoplanetary disks serve as the birthplace of planets, while older debris disks can provide insight into the architecture of exoplanetary systems. In this talk, I will discuss how one can use high contrast imaging techniques to spatially resolve nearby circumstellar disk systems, and how this imagery can be used to search for evidence of recently formed planetary bodies. I will focus on results from the Strategic Exploration of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS) project, as well as some ongoing follow-up work.
On the Edge: Exoplanets with Orbital Periods Shorter Than a Peter Jackson Movie
Brian Jackson, Boise State Univeristy
From wispy gas giants to tiny rocky bodies, exoplanets with orbital periods of several days and less challenge theories of planet formation and evolution. Recent searches have found small rocky planets with orbits reaching almost down to their host stars’ surfaces, including an iron-rich Mars-sized body with an orbital period of only four hours. So close to their host stars that some of them are actively disintegrating, these objects’ origins remain unclear, and even formation models that allow significant migration have trouble accounting for their very short periods. Some are members of multi-planet system and may have been driven inward via secular excitation and tidal damping by their sibling planets. Others may be the fossil cores of former gas giants whose atmospheres were stripped by tides.
In this presentation, I’ll discuss the work of our Short-Period Planets Group (SuPerPiG), focused on finding and understanding this surprising new class of exoplanets. We are sifting data from the reincarnated Kepler Mission, K2, to search for additional short-period planets and have found several new candidates. We are also modeling the tidal decay and disruption of close-in gaseous planets to determine how we could identify their remnants, and preliminary results suggest the cores have a distinctive mass-period relationship that may be apparent in the observed population. Whatever their origins, short-period planets are particularly amenable to discovery and detailed follow-up by ongoing and future surveys, including the TESS mission.
New Tools for Galactic Archaeology from the Milky Way
Gail Zasowski, John Hopkins University
One of the critical components for understanding galaxy evolution is understanding the Milky Way Galaxy itself — its detailed structure and chemodynamical properties, as well as fundamental stellar physics, which we can only study in great detail locally. This field is currently undergoing a dramatic expansion towards the kinds of large-scale statistical analyses long used by the extragalactic and other communities, thanks in part to an enormous influx of data from space- and ground-based surveys. I will describe the Milky Way and Local Group in the context of general galaxy evolution and highlight some recent developments in Galactic astrophysics that take advantage of these big data sets and analysis techniques. In particular, I will focus on two diverse approaches: one to characterize the distribution and dynamics of the carbon-rich, dusty diffuse ISM, and one to map the resolved bulk stellar properties of the inner disk and bulge. The rapid progress in these areas promises to continue, with the arrival of data sets from missions like SDSS, Gaia, LSST, and WFIRST.
Do star formation laws break in the center of the Galaxy?
Betsy Mills, University of Arizona
I will review our understanding of molecular gas conditions in the central 500 parsecs of the Milky Way, and summarize recent studies that find that the Galactic center deviates from universal star formation relations. It is suggested that the amount of star formation in the Galactic center is less than expected, given the quantity of dense gas in this region. However, in order to conclude that the Galactic center truly breaks these ‘laws’ of star formation, two possibilities must be ruled out: that our indicators in this region could underestimate the amount of star formation, and that prior observations could have overestimated the amount of dense gas. I will analyze new evidence for ongoing star formation in the Galactic center and present new measurements of the gas densities in the Galactic center that show it to be less dense than originally thought. However, I will ultimately argue that the average density of the gas is less relevant to explaining the dearth of star formation than the fraction of gas at each density.
The Orbital and Planetary Phase Variations of Jupiter-Sized Planets: Characterizing Present and Future Giants
Laura Mayorga, NMSU
It is commonly said that exoplanet science is 100 years behind planetary science. While we may be able to travel to an exoplanet in the future, inferring the properties of exoplanets currently relies on extracting as much information as possible from a limited dataset. In order to further our ability to characterize, classify, and understand exoplanets as both a population and as individuals, this thesis makes use of multiple types of observations and simulations.
Firstly, direct-imaging is a technique long used in planetary science and is only now becoming feasible for exoplanet characterization. We present our results from analyzing Jupiter’s phase curve with Cassini/ISS to instruct the community in the complexity of exoplanet atmospheres and the need for further model development. The planet yields from future missions may be overestimated by today’s models. We also discuss the need for optimal bandpasses to best differentiate between planet classes.
Secondly, photometric surveys are still the best way of conducting population surveys of exoplanets. In particular, the Kepler dataset remains one of the highest precision photometric datasets and many planetary candidates remain to be characterized. We present techniques by which more information, such as a planet’s mass, can be extracted from a transit light curve without expensive ground- or space-based follow-up observations.
Finally, radial-velocity observations have revealed that many of the larger “planets” may actually be brown dwarfs. To understand the distinction between a brown dwarf and an exoplanet or a star, we have developed a simple, semi-analytic viscous disk model to study brown dwarf evolutionary history. We present the rudimentary framework and discuss its performance compared to more detailed numerical simulations as well as how additional physics and development can determine the potential observational characteristics that will differentiate between various formation scenarios.
Exoplanet science has already uncovered a plethora of previously unconsidered phenomenon. To increase our understanding of our own planet, as well as the other various possible end cases, will require a closer inspection of our own solar system, the nuanced details of exoplanet data, refined simulations, and laboratory astrophysics.