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Revealing the Diversity and Formation of Super-Earth Exoplanets

Event Details

Event Dates: 

Monday, October 17, 2016 - 4:00pm

Seminar Location: 

  • JILA Auditorium

Speaker Name(s): 

Bjorn Benneke

Speaker Affiliation(s): 

Caltech
Seminar Type/Subject

Scientific Seminar Type: 

  • Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences Seminar

Event Details & Abstract: 

The discovery of short-period planets with masses and radii between Earth and Neptune was one of the biggest surprises in the brief history of exoplanet science. From the Kepler mission, we now know that these “super-Earths” orbit at least 40% of stars, likely representing the most common outcome of planet formation. Despite this ubiquity, we know little about their typical compositions and formation histories. Spectroscopic transit observations combined with powerful atmospheric retrieval tools can shed new light on these mysterious worlds. In this talk, I will present an overview of our ongoing 200-hour Hubble Space Telescope program to reveal the chemical diversity and formation of super-Earths. This unprecedented survey provides the first comprehensive look at this intriguing new class of planets by probing seven planets ranging from 1 Neptune mass and temperatures as high as 2000K to a 1 Earth-mass planet near the habitable zone of its host star. I will discuss the field’s current state of knowledge, demonstrate the capabilities of my newly developed atmospheric modeling framework, and present the first intriguing results from our HST survey. Finally, I will discuss the bright future of this kind of atmospheric studies in the era of K2, TESS, and JWST.