Probing small exoplanets from above and below (Earth's atmosphere)

Diana Dragomir (UCSB)
Event Date and Time: 
Mon, 2015-01-12 15:30 - 16:30
Hennings 318

The number of known transiting planets has increased by a factor of a few in the years since Kepler was launched, mainly thanks to the abundant harvest delivered by the mission itself. Statistical analyses of these and the significantly more numerous Kepler planet candidates indicate that smaller planets are more common than large ones. Super-Earths and mini-Neptunes (planets with radii between 1 and 4 R_Earth) are of particular interest because they constitute a class of objects which are not represented in our Solar System. While studies based on Kepler data have revolutionized many areas of exoplanet research, the relative faintness of most of the host stars in the Kepler field means that follow-up observations of these systems with other instruments is very difficult. In the first part of this presentation, I will argue that in order to better understand the nature of these widespread super-Earths and Neptune analogues, we need to construct a sample of these objects that transit bright stars. I will summarize the current state of knowledge of the handful of bright systems hosting small transiting exoplanets known so far, particularly HD 97658b and 55 Cnc e. These two super-Earths have triggered numerous follow-up studies using both ground- and space-based instruments. In the second part of this talk I will introduce the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope network, which includes 11 longitudinally distributed 1.0m and 2.0m telescopes located throughout the northern and southern hemispheres. The network enables continuous observing from the ground, and is currently being used for a variety of time-domain astronomy programs. I will give an overview of the network and its unique capabilities, as well as a summary of ongoing projects with a focus on (but not limited to) exoplanet research.

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