Observational Astronomy

Analyzing the atmosphere of Super Earth GJ1214b

Astronomers currently know of over 500 planets orbiting distant stars beyond the confines of our solar system. Of these 500 "extrasolar" planets, most are large gas-rich planets, similar to Jupiter or Saturn. However, more recently, due to improvements in discovery techniques and instrumentation, astronomers have started to discover much smaller extrasolar planets, which are only slightly larger (or more massive) than the Earth. This new class of planets, which have masses of 1-10 times that of the Earth, have come to be known as super-Earths.

Planetary Observations with the James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope is the next in the line of NASA's Great Observatories, a scientific successor to both the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. This space observatory will see the first galaxies to form in the universe, and explore how stars are born and give rise to planetary systems. It will study exoplanets, investigating their potential for life. JWST is optimized to detect infrared light, using a segmeted mirror more than 6 m in diameter and operating a million miles away in the cold, dark environment of Earth's Lagrange 2 point.

The Organism/Organics Exposure to Orbital Stresses (O/OREOS) NanoStatellite Mission

The O/OREOS (Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses) nanosatellite is the first science demonstration mission of the NASA Astrobiology Small-Payloads Program. On November 19, 2010, O/OREOS was launched successfully to a high-inclination (72°), 650-km Earth orbit. O/OREOS consists of 3 conjoined cubesat (each 1000 cm3) modules: a control bus; the Space Environment Survivability of Living Organisms experiment, and the Space Environment Viability of Organics experiment.

Small planets are common: evidence from the Eta-Earth Survey and the Kepler mission

Most planets are thought to form through the 'core accretion' process. This process can be probed by comparing the occurrence rates of extrasolar planets of different masses and orbital distances. Until recently, the evidence was limited to massive, Jovian planets. This talk will focus on recent results that probe much smaller planets: 1) the Eta-Earth Survey, a radial velocity planet search that provides a census of nearby extrasolar planets with masses of 3-1000 Earth-masses; and 2) the Kepler mission, which detects transiting planets with sizes down to one Earth radius.

IRIS: a new window on the physics of the solar interface region

The Sun's outer atmosphere or corona is heated to millions of degrees, considerably hotter than its cool surface or photosphere. Explanations for this long-standing enigma typically invoke the deposition in the corona of non-thermal energy generated by the interplay of convection and magnetic fields. However, the exact physical mechanism driving coronal heating remains unknown.

Status of the James Webb Telescope and its Capabilities for Exoplanet Science

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large aperture (6.5 meter), cryogenic space telescope with a suite of near and mid-infrared instruments covering the wavelength range of 0.6 µm to 28 µm. JWST’s primary science goal is to detect and characterize the first galaxies. It will also study the assembly of galaxies, stellar and planetary system formation, and the formation and evolution of planetary systems. Dr.

Beyond Kepler: Direct Imaging of Earth-like Planets

Is there another Earth out there? People have been asking this question for over two thousand years, and we finally stand on the verge of answering it. The Kepler mission (which was featured in several of the past SETI talks) will likely find the first ever Earth-sized planet around the habitable zone of another star. This talk is about the next step after Kepler, which might be a mission to directly image Earth-like planets and analyze their spectra for biomarkers such as oxygen, water, and atmosphere.

From Hot Jupiters to Super-Earths: A Survey of Exoplanetary Atmospheres

The past decade has marked a period of great progress in our quest to discover and characterize the properties of the planets outside of our own solar system. Observations of transiting systems, in which the planet periodically passes in front of and then behind its star as seen from the earth, have allowed us to study the properties of these distant worlds in unprecedented detail. Dr.

Cosmic Microwave Background Measurements with the QUaD Experiment

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation has enabled us to probe conditions in the early universe with incredible precision. The QUaD experiment is one of the first to report detailed measurements of the polarization of the CMB, which provides extra information that complements temperature measurements. Dr. Church will discuss the implications of the QUaD data and set the stage for what we can expect from future, more sensitive experiments. 

Kepler: Are There Any Good Worlds Out There?

The Kepler Mission began its science observations just one year ago on March 12, 2009, initiating NASA’s first search for Earth-like planets. Initial results and light curves from Kepler are simply breath-taking, and they reveal as much about the instrument as they do about the stars Kepler observes. I will discuss how much we’ve learned over the past year about the instrument and the stars and how we are modifying the Science Pipeline to reveal small Earth-like planets. 


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