Astronomy: September 2013

On Earth, life leaves telltale signals in the atmosphere. Photosynthesis is ultimately responsible for the high oxygen levels and the thick ozone layer. Microbes emit methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, and seaweeds emit chloromethane gas.

We describe and report first results from PALM-3000, the second-generation astronomical adaptive optics facility for the 5.1-m Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory.

Astrometry is a powerful technique to study the populations of extrasolar planets around nearby stars. It gives access to a unique parameter space and is therefore required for obtaining a comprehensive picture of the properties, abundances, and architectures of exoplanetary systems.

We report our spectroscopic investigation of the transiting ice giant GJ 3470b's atmospheric transmission, and the first results of extrasolar planet observations from the new Keck/MOSFIRE spectrograph.

GJ3470b is a rare example of a "hot Uranus" transiting exoplanet orbiting a nearby M1.5 dwarf. It is of crucial interest for atmospheric studies because it is one of the most inflated low-mass planets known, bridging the boundary between "super-Earths" and Neptunian planets.