Friday, May 23rd, 2014
3:15-4:15, Large Conference Room
Dr. Nick Cowan
CIERA - Northwestern University
Planetary Science from the Top-Down: the Exoplanet Opportunity
What started as a trickle in the mid 1990's is now a torrent, with over one thousand extrasolar planets currently known, and thousands of candidates awaiting confirmation. The study of exoplanets has already revolutionized our view of planet formation, and will soon do the same to our understanding of planetary atmospheres and interiors. The diversity of exoplanets gives us the leverage to crack hard problems in planetary science: cloud formation, atmospheric circulation, plate tectonics, etc. However, the characterization of exoplanets presents a challenge familiar to astronomers: our targets are so distant that we only see them as unresolved dots. I will describe how we can extract spatially-resolved snapshots of planets from such observations. These data are sufficient to constrain low-order climate models and therefore give us insight into the effects of clouds, heat transport, and geochemical cycling. Coarse measurements for a large number of planets is the perfect complement to the detailed measurements possible in the Solar System. That is the exoplanet opportunity.