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.
Evolving Perspectives on the Atmosphere and Climate of Mars
Dr. Richard Zurek, JPL
Abstract: The planet Mars has both fascinated and tantalized humankind since the invention of the telescope and now well into the age of exploration from space. The first of three waves of space missions to Mars were flyby spacecraft that returned images of a heavily cratered planet with a thin atmosphere, suggesting Mars was more like the Moon than an older Earth. However, Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit another planet, found vast channel and valley networks carved into its surface, as well as towering volcanoes, suggesting that ancient Mars was once much more Earth-like. Subsequent missions have landed on the planet and new orbiters have probed the planet at ever increasing spatial resolution and spectral coverage. As a result of the latest round of space exploration, Mars is revealed to be a complex, diverse planet— one whose climate has changed dramatically over time from an ancient atmosphere where water was active on its surface to a drier, thinner atmosphere shaped by periodic ice ages, to the present atmosphere where dynamic change continues today.
Dr. Zurek is the Chief Scientist in the Mars Program Office, Project Scientist, MRO.
Star formation in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre
Dr. Mark Wardle, Macquarie University
The disruptive tidal field near supermassive black holes overcomes the self-gravity of objects that are less dense than the Roche density. This was once expected to suppress star formation within several parsecs of Sgr A*, the four million solar mass black hole at the centre of the Galaxy. It has since become apparent that things are not this simple: Sgr A* is surrounded by a sub-parsec-scale orbiting disk of massive stars, indicating a star formation event occurred a few million years ago. And on parsec scales, star formation seems to be happening now: there are proplyd candidates and protostellar outflow candidates, as well as methanol and water masers that in the galactic disk would be regarded as sure-fire signatures of star formation. In this talk, I shall consider how star formation can occur so close to Sgr A*.
The stellar disk may be created through the partial capture of a molecular cloud as it swept through the inner few parsecs of the galaxy and temporarily engulfed Sgr A*. This rather naturally creates a disk of gas with the steep surface density profile of the present stellar disk. The inner 0.04 pc is so optically thick that it cannot fragment, instead accreting onto Sgr A* in a few million years; meanwhile the outer disk fragments and creates the observed stellar disk. The isolated young stellar objects found at larger distances, on the other hand, can be explained by stabilisation of clouds or cloud cores by the high external pressure that permeates the inner Galaxy. A virial analysis shows that clouds are indeed tidally disrupted within 0.5 pc of Sgr A*, but outside this the external pressure allows self-gravitating clouds to survive, providing the raw material for ongoing star formation.
Asteroseismology of Red Giants: The Detailed Modeling of Red Giants in Eclipsing Binary Systems
Jean McKeever, NMSU
Asteroseismology is an invaluable tool that allows one to peer into the inside of a star and know its fundamental stellar properties with relative ease. There has been much exploration of solar-like oscillations within red giants with recent advances in technology, leading to new innovations in observing. The Kepler mission, with its 4-year observations of a single patch of sky, has opened the floodgates on asteroseismic studies. Binary star systems are also an invaluable tool for their ability to provide independent constraints on fundamental stellar parameters such as mass and radius. The asteroseismic scaling laws link observables in the light curves of stars to the physical parameters in the star, providing a unique tool to study large populations of stars quite easily. In this work we present our 4-year radial velocity observing program to provide accurate dynamical masses for 16 red giants in eclipsing binary systems. From this we find that asteroseismology overestimates the mass and radius of red giants by 15% and 5% respectively. We further attempt to model the pulsations of a few of these stars using stellar evolution and oscillation codes. The goal is to determine which masses are correct and if there is a physical cause for the discrepancy in asteroseismic masses. We find there are many challenges to modeling evolved stars such as red giants and we address a few of the major concerns. These systems are some of the best studied systems to date and further exploration of their asteroseismic mysteries is inevitable.