Evaporating Exoplanets" was the third lecture given to us by Jakub Bochinski from the Open University on Wednesday 17th September 2014. Jakub had just returned from a series of conferences throughout Europe, and gave us an in-depth update on the subject.
The first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, last year there were 967, and to date the number is approximately 2,000. However the rate of discoveries is now believed to be 1,000/year and up to 3/day. Some exoplanets transits in front of their star and are hot or cold depending on how close or how far away from their stars they are.
Jakub told us about two exoplanets that he had been studying recently. WASP-12b is among the hottest known gas giants, it is highly irradiated, has a temperature of 2500 Kelvin, and is surrounded by an extended cloud of gas, which the planet is flying through. The timings of planets' transist have been observed through photometry in different wavelengths by the ULTRACAM camera on the back of the William Herschel Telescope, and translated into light curves. Because of the noise in the WASP-12b data, Jakub has written a piece of software he has called ULTRACorrect, which corrects noise at 100,000 pixels/second and leaves a clear data set to perform analysis on. This analysis is still ongoing and we are hoping to hear about it more in the future.
The other exoplanet, KIC 12557548b is a Merury sized exoplanet with a temperature of 2,100 Kelvin, which is shown to be geologically active, actively disintegrating in front of our telescopes, and creating a comet-like dust tail, which follows the planet. It is hoped that Jakub will be able to find out the size of dust grains in the tail, and potentially even look under the planet's surface to start asking questions about its composition.
What next! The NASA Kepler probe is the most successful exoplanetary mission so far. Future missions are - the ESA CHEOPS due for launch in 2017, the NASA TESS probe, and the ESA M3 class PLATO 2 planned for 2024. The last one should produce a wealth of targets for follow-up studies by any ground-based observatory. There are two designs planned for this, a single telescope with a wide field of view, and a telescope with multiple lenses, similar to the SuperWASP observatories. All these missions will study exoplanets and their stars in different ways.
Jakub has written a paper about his most recent and exciting observations, and concluded his lecture with the words "The Future is here." The lecture produced a lot of questions from members.
We had hoped to have another lecture on exoplanets in the future. Although Jakub might be moving abroad shortly, he has offered to help our Society set up our observatory telescope so that we can observe exoplanets ourselves. We look forward to taking him up on his offer.
Our thanks go to Jakub for yet another interesting and informative lecture.