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Optical Telescopes for Exoplanet Science

Prof. Jim Breckinridge Cal Tech

Monday, October 1, 2012
3:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
Sloan Auditorium

The NASA program to identify and characterize planets in solar systems other than our own captures the imagination of almost every one. Infrared and optical telescopes and instruments with unprecedented performance are required. The detection, characterization, and evolution of earth sized terrestrial rocky exoplanets will profoundly change the way mankind perceives himself in the Universe. One of the questions we are asking is: “are we alone”! At the center of each exoplanet system lays a large bright star, which illuminates the small planet. The difference in the intensity of the star and its earth-sized companion is 10-12. This is a phenomenally difficult measurement. Optical telescopes and instruments to make these measurements will be described. The techniques and instruments used in exoplanet science are coronagraphs with external and internal occulters, precision Doppler spectrograph systems, planetary occultation’s and eclipses, and long base line space based interferometers (imaging and astrometric). Many successful exoplanet discoveries have been made over the past 2 years. Some of these will be reviewed with in the framework of new optics technology developments. Recent work in mission and technology development will also be discussed.