Exoplanet Research at MIT (3 talks and a tour!)

Thursday, January 19,
1:00pm to 3:30pm
Marlar Lounge 37-252

Exoplanet Research at MIT
Learn about exoplanet research being carried out at MIT.

Unlocking the Secrets of Nearby Exoplanets with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
Dr. George Ricker, 1:00-1:30pm

Abstract: Dr. Ricker will describe the development program at MIT that followed from the successful proposal to NASA for the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) space mission. A primary goal of TESS is to locate candidate Earth-sized planets in the solar neighborhood. A special focus will be on exoplanets that lie within the habitable zone of their host stars, where conditions might be suitable for the existence of life. The TESS science instruments will be operated from the MIT campus. TESS is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in early 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket.

Exoplanet Science in the era of TESS
Dr. Jenn Burt, 1:30-2:00pm

Abstract: The beginning of the TESS spacecraft's science mission in mid 2018 promises the detection of thousands of exoplanets orbiting bright, nearby stars. These planets will provide astronomers with our best ever opportunity to mount extensive follow up observation efforts and try to understand the composition, distribution and evolution of planets in our galaxy. This talk will describe the anticipated TESS planet yield, its impact on the exoplanet field, and some of the follow up methods that astronomers will use to probe the composition of the planets' rocky cores and/or gaseous outer atmospheres.

The Mystery of Super-Earth Exoplanets
Dr Diana Dragomir, 2:00-2:30pm

Abstract: Just 25 years ago, humanity did not know whether planets were common in the Universe or whether the Solar System was an anomaly. Then, in 1995 a giant planet was discovered in a 4-day orbit around a main sequence star. Since then, the number of exoplanets announced every year has been increasing exponentially. We now know of planets with periods between several hours and hundreds of years, and ranging in size from smaller than Mercury to larger than Jupiter. Most intriguing are the super-Earths, exoplanets with sizes between those of the Earth and Neptune. While absent in the Solar System, the Kepler satellite found they are ubiquitous around other stars. Yet we know very little about what these planets are like. Even in cases where we can measure their density, it is difficult to determine their composition. I will discuss how astronomers use both humble and powerful telescopes to gradually reveal the nature of this fascinating class of exoplanets.

Tour of the TESS Test Facility

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky. In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will monitor more than 200,000 stars for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. This first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, around a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. No ground-based survey can achieve this feat.  A tour of the TESS test facility is available for a small number of attendees on a first-come-first-served basis.



No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

The tour is limited to 12 individuals who sign up in advance (email meinbres@mit.edu) by 12noon on January 19.  Please provide your name as it appears on your official ID (passport, valid driver's license, or state-issued ID).  Be sure to bring your ID with you for the tour.