Colloquium: Small Stars with Small Planets and Big Consequences (HMC)

posted on September 25, 2012 by

Philip Muirhead, Caltech

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm, Galileo-Pryne at Harvey Mudd College (Refreshments at 4:15 pm)

Abstract: With the success of NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft, extrasolar planet science has entered a new era. Prior to Kepler’s launch exoplanet science was primarily concerned with gas-giant exoplanets, since gas giants comprised the majority of discoveries, numbering in the hundreds. NASA’s Kepler Mission has since discovered thousands of exoplanets with many of them terrestrial-sized. Of particular interest are terrestrial exoplanets orbiting low-mass stars, which are roughly 1/10 to 1/2 the mass of Sun. Low-mass stars dominate stellar populations, so understanding the prevalence of terrestrial exoplanets orbiting low-mass stars, life-harboring or otherwise, is crucial to understanding their prevalence in the Universe. I will present a ground-based observation program to characterize low-mass stars with exoplanets discovered by the Kepler Spacecraft, and our identification of the three smallest exoplanets detected to date: Kepler 41 b, c and d (formerly KOI 961 b, c and d). The program uses a fully-cryogenic infrared spectrograph built by myself and others and deployed on the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory in Southern California.