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.
Searching for Dwarf Satellites around Milky Way – Analog Galaxies with the SAGA survey
Ben Weiner, Steward Observatory
Dwarf satellites of massive galaxies are a probe of many issues in galaxy evolution and cosmology, including the nature of low-mass galaxies, star formation at early times, accretion into halos, and the abundance of low-mass dark matter halos. Much attention has been devoted to the number and nature of Milky Way and M31 dwarf satellites, especially the “missing satellites problem.” However, we know very little about dwarf satellites outside the Local Group below the mass of the LMC, and we don’t know if the MW and M31 satellite systems are typical. The SAGA (Satellites Around Galactic Analogs) survey collaboration aims to address this with both observational and theoretical studies of satellite abundances and properties around Milky Way analog central galaxies. I will present results from our MMT/Hectospec wide field spectroscopic surveys for satellites. We have surveyed the fields of several nearby galaxies that are similar to the Milky Way to detect and spectroscopically confirm dwarf satellites. We find a range of numbers of satellites, suggesting that there is a significant variance in halo histories. We also find that not all dwarf systems resemble the Milky Way and M31 systems. I will discuss these results and some of the implications on the life cycle of satellites that we can infer from satellite abundances and properties, including their images and spectra.
Magnetic Influences on Coronal Heating and the Solar Wind
Lauren Woolsey, Harvard University
The physical mechanism(s) that generate and accelerate the solar wind have not been conclusively determined after decades of study, though not for lack of possibilities. The long list of proposed processes can be grouped into two main paradigms: 1) models that require the rearranging of magnetic topology through magnetic reconnection in order to release energy and accelerate the wind and 2) models that require the launching of magnetoacoustic and Alfvén waves to propagate along the magnetic field and generate turbulence to heat the corona and accelerate the emanating wind. After a short overview of these paradigms, I will present my ongoing dissertation work that seeks to investigate the latter category of theoretical models and the role that different magnetic field profiles play in the resulting solar wind properties with Alfvén-wave-driven turbulent heating. I will describe the computer modeling in 1D and 3D that I have done of bundles of magnetic field (flux tubes) that are open to the heliosphere, and what our results can tell us about the influences of magnetic field on the solar wind in these flux tubes, including the latest time-dependent modeling that produces bursty, nanoflare-like heating. Additionally, I will present the latest results of our study of chromospheric network jets and the magnetic thresholds we are finding in magnetogram data.
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.