From Puff-Ball Neptunes to Earth-sized Rocky planets: Exoplanets in the Kepler Era
with Howard Isaacson
Saturday January 16, 2016 at 11:00 AM
159 Mulford Hall, UC Berkeley
Since the discovery of the first exoplanet around a Sun-like star in 1995, ground-based surveys and space-based telescopes have discovered thousands of planets outside of our Solar System. The properties of exoplanets range far beyond what we see in the Solar System. From Jupiter-sized planets nearly touching their stars, to gaseous mini-Neptunes, the variety of discoveries continues to surprise astronomers. As the overall number of exoplanets continues to grow, Howard is focusing on the masses and densities of planets only a few times larger than the size of the Earth. The point at which planets transition from solid planets, such as the Earth and Venus, to gaseous planets that resemble Neptune and Uranus is of special interest. Knowing the transition region, in terms of planet size, will help to determine the occurrence of planets nearly the size of the Earth.
Howard Isaacson is interested in the study of planets that orbit around stars other than our sun, aka exoplanets. As part of NASA’s Kepler Space Mission and the California Planet Search team, he works to characterize the size, mass, density and composition of the exoplanets discovered that are most like the Earth. Howard and his colleagues accomplish this by combining photometric measurements of stars’ brightness collected by Kepler with radial velocity measurements of individual stars collected with the Keck Telescope and HIRES spectrometer located on the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The overarching goal of this research is to try to find planets that most resemble the Earth in their size, composition, and distance from their host star.
Howard studied in the Physics and Astronomy Department at San Francisco State University. There he collected both an undergraduate and master’s degree working with Dr. Debra Fischer, focusing his research on exoplanet detection and stellar activity measurements. After graduation, he began working at UC Berkeley on the (then recently launched) Kepler Space Telescope operated out of NASA Ames Research Center. While Kepler has ended its primary mission, it is still working (with the new moniker K2), and there is still much work to be done.
This free public talk is presented as part of the monthly Science at Cal Lecture Series
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