CfA Colloquium Schedule Spring 2010
 22 April 2010

22 April 2010

Speaker: Peter McCullough (STScI / Visiting Scientist at CfA)

Title:Discovery and Characterization of Transiting Extrasolar Planets

Abstract:In the past decade, one of the fastest growing fields of astronomy has been the discovery and characterization of planets that pass in front of (or "transit") their host stars. From telescopes in backyards to ones in space, observations of our "XO Project" and many others around the globe are contributing to this burgeoning field of inquiry (e.g. Garcia-Melendo and McCullough (2009) and others' discovery of the transit of the 111-day-period HD 80606b). I will review highlights from some recent programs that I have had a role in, using the HST, SST, and WIYN telescopes. In particular, time series photometry of high precision with the Spitzer IRAC instrument have challenged the prevailing hypothesis for the formation of hot stratospheres of such planets (XO-1b, XO-2b, and XO3-b; Machalek et al. 2008, 2009, 2010). Ground-based time-series photometry with a precision of 200 ppm per minute, as demonstrated on XO-2 by Burke et al. with the WIYN 3.5-m, show promise for discovering transits of super-Earths discovered by radial velocities. Time series of spectrophotometry with Hubble's NICMOS instrument have provided initial glimpses to the atomic and molecular content of transiting planets' atmospheres (HD 189733b, Swain et al. 2008; XO-1b, Tinetti et al. 2010). Prior to the May 2009 servicing mission of HST, we used one of HST's fine guidance sensors, FGS-2r, as a photometer to observe the transiting planet host star HD 17156 for ten straight days with a precision of 120 ppm per minute. We derived the mean density of the star by two independent methods, the transit technique (Nutzman et al 2010) and asteroseismology (Gilliland et al. 2010), and find they agree, thereby validating the two methods. I will also discuss some likely future developments enabled by precise observations from space (Kepler, Hubble, Spitzer) and the ground.


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