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.
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.