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Extrasolar Planets: August 2013


We determine the fraction of G-dwarf stars that could host stable planetary systems based on the observed properties of binaries in the Galactic field, and in various postulated primordial binary populations, which assume that the primordial binary fraction is higher than that in the field.

At optical wavelengths, an exoplanet's signature is essentially reflected light from the host star - several orders of magnitude fainter. Since it is superimposed on the star spectrum its detection has been a difficult observational challenge.

Ranked near the top of the long list of exciting discoveries made with NASA's Kepler photometer is the detection of transiting circumbinary planets. In just over a year the number of such planets went from zero to seven, including a multi-planet system with one of the planets in the habitable zone (Kepler-47).

The Solar System includes two planets --- Mercury and Mars --- significantly less massive than Earth, and all evidence indicates that planets of similar size orbit many stars. In fact, one of the first exoplanets to be discovered is a lunar-mass planet around a millisecond pulsar.

The characterization of the atmospheres of habitable-zone Earth-mass exoplanets that transit across main-sequence stars, let alone the detection of bio-markers in their atmospheres, will be challenging even with future facilities. It has been noted that white dwarfs (WDs) have long-lived habitable zones and that a large fraction of WDs may host planets.

Water and Low Mass Stars

If water is the source of life, then finding the source of water certainly qualifies as a worthy astrobiological endeavor. Scientists have formulated certain scenarios for how our planet became wet and stayed wet, but other planets may not have been able to tap this same source.

For much of human history we have wondered how our solar system formed, and whether there are any other planets like ours around other stars. Only in the last 20 years have we had direct evidence for the existence of exoplanets, with the number of known exoplanets dramatically increasing in recent years, especially with the success of the Kepler mission.

Of the many recently discovered worlds orbiting distant stars, very little is yet known of their chemical composition. With the arrival of new transit spectroscopy and direct imaging facilities, the question of molecular detectability as a function of signal-to-noise (SNR), spectral resolving power and type of planets has become critical.

A Fluffy Disk Around a Baby Star

The Subaru Telescope's High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Adaptive Optics (HiCIAO) has been used to observe a disk around the young star RY Tau.

Rotation is thought to drive cyclic magnetic activity in the Sun and Sun-like stars. Stellar dynamos, however, are poorly understood owing to the scarcity of observations of rotation and magnetic fields in stars.

In the Jupiter-Io system, the moon's motion produces currents along the field lines that connect the moon to the Jupiter's polar regions, where the radio emission is modulated by the currents. Based on this process, we suggest that such modulation of planetary radio emissions may reveal the presence of exomoons around giant planets in exoplanetary systems.

The NAI team, Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL), is interested in how to determine if planets orbiting others stars exhibit signs of life, "biosignatures."

Recent high-resolution observations show that protoplanetary disks have various kinds of structural properties or inhomogeneities. These are the consequence of a mixture of a number of physical and chemical processes taking place in the disks.

A Closer Look at HD189733b

Modern, ground-based telescopes and NASA's Kepler spacecraft have now confirmed more than 850 exoplanets, while thousands more await confirmation. The pace of discovery suggests "there are at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy," says John Johnson of Caltech, who works with data from the Kepler mission. "That's mind-boggling."

We present Hubble Space Telescope near-infrared transmission spectroscopy of the transiting hot-Jupiter HAT-P-1b.

Planets in M dwarf stars' habitable zones are likely to be tidally locked with orbital periods of order tens of days. This means that the effects of rotation on atmospheric dynamics will be relatively weak, which requires small horizontal temperature gradients above the boundary layer of terrestrial atmospheres.

The purpose of this call for white papers is to solicit community input for alternate science investigations that may be performed using Kepler and are consistent with its probable two-wheel performance.

In a bit of cosmic irony, planets orbiting cooler stars may be more likely to remain ice-free than planets around hotter stars. This is due to the interaction of a star's light with ice and snow on the planet's surface.