Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Cahill Center, Hameetman Auditorium
Hot on the Trail of Warm Planets Around Cool Stars
John Johnson, Caltech
During the past 17 years our knowledge of planetary systems has been revolutionized by the discovery of a diverse sample of thousands of planets orbiting other stars. These exoplanets provide us with clues about the origins of our planet, and help us place our Solar System in a broader Galactic perspective. One of the most remarkable results to emerge from the sample of known exoplanets is that there are many more small planets than large ones throughout the Galaxy, with as many as 1-3 planets per star with periods less than ~1 year. I will present the Caltech Exolabs two-pronged approach to finding and studying these low-mass planetary systems in the immediate Solar neighborhood (< 25 parsecs). Our first strategy is to study the planets orbiting the least massive and most proximate Kepler target stars: the M dwarfs. This study is made possible by the new spectroscopic and photometric tools we have developed to measure the fundamental characteristics of low-mass stars and their planets. Our second thrust involves the development of a new telescope facility at Palomar for the detection of low-mass planets in the habitable zones of their stars. This program, called Project Minerva, continues the use of small, robotic telescopes to do big science atop Palomar Mountain.