A Decade of Exoplanets with the MOST Space Telescope: From Dark Giants to Super Earths

Thursday, 10 December 2015 1 p.m. — 2 p.m. MST

AURA Lecture Hall

NOIRLab South Colloquia
JAYMIE MATTHEWS (Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and NOAO South Visiting Scientist)

The star of my talk is a Transformer™. Transformers™ are fictional “robots in disguise” that transform from everyday vehicles and appliances into powerful cybernetic humanoids.  MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of STars) is a real microsat (not much bigger than an appliance) which has transformed its original role (a one-year mission to study 10 stars) to become an observatory operating for more than 12 years studying thousands of stars, with applications and operating modes its designers never dreamed.

MOST is too small to be an exoplanetary hunter, at least for a statistically large sample, but it's been an intrepid exoplanetary 'explorer'.  MOST set strict limits on the low albedo of a hot Jupiter, a world as reflective as charcoal, which set limits on the temperature and properties of its atmosphere and clouds.  MOST showed how the magnetic field lines of a star can become tangled with the magnetosphere of a close-in planet, opening a window on exoplanetary magnetism.  MOST has witnessed a planet excite (or filter) pulsations in its parent star. MOST played a key role in characterising two of three known volatile-rich superEarths. One goal of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is to follow in MOST's footsteps and find more.

Transformer MOST may not be a superhero, but it has ‘sidekicks’ in space.  BRITE (BRIght Target Explorer) Constellation is a low-cost Canadian-Austrian-Polish mission – six nanosats (each the size and mass of a car battery) in low Earth orbit – that will photometrically monitor in two bandpasses the brightest stars in the night sky for several years.   There are lessons to be learned from MOST and BRITE Constellation, not the least of which is the diagnostic power of small telescopes in the right locations equipped with the right instruments.