The first planet outside our own solar system was discovered almost thirty years ago in an extremely unlikely place, orbiting a pulsar, and the first exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star was discovered nearly 26 years ago. In the time since, we’ve detected over 4500 planets and over 75% of these have been detected by transit surveys. The Kepler Mission, launched in 2009, has found the lion’s share of these exoplanets (>2800), and demonstrated that each star in the night sky has, on average, at least one planet. Kepler’s success spurred NASA and ESA to select several exoplanet-themed missions to move the field of exoplanet science forward from discovery to characterization: How do these planets form and evolve? What is the structure and composition of the atmospheres and interiors of these planets? Can we detect biomarkers in the atmospheres of these planets and learn the answer to the fundamental question, are we alone? NASA selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2014 to conduct a nearly all-sky survey for transiting planets with the goal of identifying at least 50 small planets (<4 Rearth) with measured masses that can be followed up by large telescopic assets, such as the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. TESS has discovered 152 exoplanets so far, 69 of which are smaller than 4 Rearth with measured masses. In this talk I will describe how we detect weak transit signatures in noisy but beautiful transit survey data sets and present some of the most compelling discoveries made so far by Kepler and TESS.
Speaker: Jon Jenkins, NASA Ames
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