Characterizing Exoplanets with Next Generation Space Telescopes
Tyler Robinson - UC Santa Cruz
Atmospheres are the lens through which we understand other worlds. Molecules in planetary atmospheres carve absorption features into reflection, emission, and transmission spectra, allowing us to characterize a world’s composition and thermal state. Atmospheric condensates have a strong influence on the albedos of planets and, thus, are critical for determining the energy balance of a world. Atmospheres can even control the evolution of worlds, either through their role as the valve through which giant planets and brown dwarfs cool over billions of years, or by extinguishing a terrestrial planet’s habitability via a runaway greenhouse. Thus, it is particularly exciting that we are entering into (what will likely be) a long era of exoplanet atmospheric characterization. Several missions or mission concepts now exist for space-based telescopes that will enable the study of exoplanets in reflected light. Coming first in this lineup will be NASA’s WFIRST mission, which will launch in the mid-2020s. In this presentation, I will discuss the exoplanet characterization potential of the WFIRST coronagraphic instrument (CGI), highlighting the possibility to rendezvous the telescope with an external occulting starshade. Lessons learned from the WFIRST mission will then pave the way for the science of next-generation space-based exoplanet observatories, such as the HabEx or LUVOIR concepts. With all of these exciting prospects on the horizon, it is becoming clear that the next two decades of exoplanet science will be as amazing as its first two decades.
Coffee and Donuts will be served at 2:00pm in 4054 McPherson Lab.