Special Seminar: Discovering Exoplanets for Astrobiological Characterization and the Role of Precision Spectroscopy

Paul Robertson
Penn State Univ.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
2:00 pm
NS2 1201
*Special day / time

The field of exoplanet science, particularly as it relates to the discovery and characterization of the nearest exoplanets, stands at the threshold of a renaissance.  A new generation of dedicated radial velocity (RV) spectrometers is quickly coming online, which will enable sub-1 m/s Doppler measurements of nearby stars across the entire optical-NIR bandpass.  Combined with transit observations from K2 and the upcoming TESS mission, and exoplanet spectroscopy from JWST, these instruments promise an era of characterization for nearby low-mass exoplanets.  Further afield, the development of space-based and 30-meter telescopes capable of measuring the atmospheres of Earthlike planets offers the tantalizing possibility of transitioning from exoplanet taxonomy to observational astrobiology.  With observational facilities such as the Automated Planet Finder and the Keck Planet Finder, as well as a partnership in the Thirty Meter Telescope, the UC Observatories are well equipped to lead the field of observational exoplanet science in the coming decades.
I will outline the primary science drivers and capabilities of today's exoplanet observing technology, and explain how ongoing initiatives to discover exoplanets and measure their properties will set the stage for exploring those planets with tomorrow's telescopes.  I will discuss the vital role of ultra-precise RV instruments in an era where exoplanets are discovered in bulk by transit surveys, focusing on the HPF and NEID spectrometers. Actually achieving Doppler measurements more precise than 1 m/s is fraught with challenges, and I will highlight some of the novel approaches HPF, NEID, and other upcoming Doppler spectrometers are implementing to achieve unprecedented stability.  With the improvements in measurement precision comes the simultaneous need to better mitigate astrophysical noise from stars themselves, and I will emphasize the fact that discovering and characterizing Earth analogs in the near future will require a concerted, collaborative effort from instrumentalists, astrophysicists, and statisticians.

Michael Cooper