Astronomy Seminar

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Date/Time:Friday, 12 Sep 2014 at 4:10 pm
Location:3 Physics
Contact:Steve Kawaler, Physics and Astronomy
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A Place Like Home?: Revealing the Atmospheres of Extrasolar Super-Earths (Dr. Eliza Kempton, Grinnell College)

Extrasolar super-Earths (planets with size and mass intermediate between Earth and Neptune) are now known to be highly abundant within our galaxy. These objects are of particular interest to astronomers because planets in this mass and size range are not present in our solar system. Super-Earths therefore make up a fundamentally new class of planet for researchers to study. The population of super-Earths is highly highly diverse in bulk composition -- planets have been discovered ranging from iron-rich, to water-rich, to hydrogen-rich. The first observations of super-Earth atmospheres reveal planets that do not resemble any solar system objects. I will present the initial observations of super-Earths and their atmospheres, and I will discuss the challenges to understanding this diverse set of planets. I will conclude with some takeaway messages for future studies of low-mass extrasolar planets using next generation telescopes such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.