Astrophysics Colloquium Archived Talks
3/31/2021 - Jose Cernicharo (Grupo de Astrofísica Molecular, Instituto de Física Fundamental, CSIC)
Title: TThe chemical complexity of interstellar and C-rich circumstellar clouds: A comparison of the chemistry in TMC-1 and IRC+10216
Abstract: I will present the most recent results of the deep line surveys of TMC-1 and IRC+10216, performed with the YEBES 40m and IRAM 30m radio telescopes, and with the ALMA interferometer. These surveys cover the frequency ranges 31-50, 70-116, 120-180, and 200-350 GHz. In the case of TMC-1 our data show several hundred U-lines in the 31-50 GHz range that certainly arise from several tens of new species, probably hydrocarbon radicals. For IRC+10216 the ALMA data show a forest of more than 1500 narrow U-lines arising from the dust formation zone for which we have not found any obvious carrier candidate. Although the chemistry of a circumstellar envelope (IRC+10216) could be, a priori, unrelated to that of a protostellar dark core (TMC-1), we have found that the comparative study of their chemical composition can provide key information on the role of ion-neutral and radical-radical reactions. Time plays a critical role in the growth of cyclical molecules in circumstellar envelopes. However, in interstellar clouds radical-radical reactions permit the development of a rich chemistry leading to the formation of pure hydrocarbon rings, including the first non-functionalized PAH, indene (c-C9H8).
3/31/2021 - Sarah Millholland (Princeton)
Title: Tidal Sculpting of Short-Period Exoplanets
Abstract: Multiple-planet systems composed of close-in super-Earth/sub-Neptune-sized planets are ubiquitous, representing a dominant outcome of planet formation. This population exhibits predictable hallmarks of architectural regularity and uniformity, such as low eccentricities and inclinations, similar orbital spacings, and intra-system correlations in planetary masses and radii. On top of this first-order structure, however, these systems also exhibit surprising anomalies that require explanation. Examples include (1) ultra-short period planets, whose extremely-irradiated orbits have been separated off from the rest of their systems; (2) planets piled up wide of mean-motion resonances; and (3) a subset of Neptune-sized planets that show signs of radius inflation. In this talk, I will propose that tidal dynamics can account for these specific anomalies and more. Specifically, I will discuss the critical role of enhanced tidal dissipation due to non-zero planetary axial tilts (obliquities), which arise by way of prevalent dynamical resonances. I will highlight strategies for testing these tidal theories and observing obliquities directly in the future.
4/7/2021 - Jennifer Burt (JPL)
Title: Chasing TESS planet candidates with bright futures
Abstract: NASA's TESS mission has produced more than 2000 planet candidates to date, and the TESS community is working to achieve the mission's level one science requirement of delivering masses for 50 new TOI planets by Summer 2021. With such a large starting pool, the decision of what candidates to follow up requires the collaboration of numerous ground based facilities. I will discuss the flow down from TESS Object of Interest (TOI) to confirmed planet through the lens of two recent confirmations. The first, TOI-824 b, is a hot, sub-Neptune planet orbiting a K4V star that sits in a crowded section of the night sky. Follow up efforts revealed an incorrect initial TESS radius estimate due to biased background estimates, demonstrating the importance of higher resolution ground based photometric follow up. The second, TOI-1231 b, is a temperate, Neptune-sized planet orbiting a nearby M3V star. Exhibiting only one transit per sector of TESS monitoring, the planet is one of the coolest small planets detected in the primary mission. Models of atmospheric observations suggest that it will be possible to detect spectral features in an atmosphere similar to that of K2-18 b enabling the first comparative planetology in the 250-350 Kelvin temperature range. Both of these new planets offer exciting atmospheric follow up possibilities and move TESS two steps closer to accomplishing its level one science goal.
4/14/2021 - Alan McConnachie (University of Victoria / NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics)
Title: At the limits of Gaia: the dynamics of the outer Galaxy and the Local Group seen with DR2 and EDR3
Abstract: It might be a cliché to say that Gaia is revolutionising our understanding of the structure of the Milky Way and its constituent stellar populations, but it is true and cannot be overstated. Most of this revolution is occurring within 10\,kpc from the Sun; beyond this, Gaia parallax uncertainties are of order 100%. However, Gaia proper motions can remain accurate to an interesting level for much more distant objects. We have undertaken an extensive wide field imaging campaign of the northern skies, concentrating on obtaining exquisite u-band data for thousands of square degrees, approximately 3 magnitudes deeper than SDSS. Combined with other bands, these data are excellent for obtaining photometric parallaxes for a wide range of stellar populations. I will show how these data, combined with Gaia proper motions, are allowing for the discovery of new streams and substructures in the very outer parts of the Galaxy (10 – 100,kpc distant), including a feature associated with the globular cluster NGC5466 that promises to be a highly useful galactic potentiometer. I will also discuss how precise proper motions for the entire dwarf galaxy population of the Milky Way (50 – 400kpc distant) are allowing us to examine the association, or otherwise, of groups of globular clusters and dwarf galaxies that point to group accretion events. Finally, I will present new Gaia proper motions for distant, isolated, dwarf galaxies (~500kpc distant), and examine their orbital evolution within the Local Group gravitational potential.
4/21/2021 - Ivo Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology)
Title: Rise and Fall of the First Galaxies in the era of JWST
Abstract: The formation of the first galaxies is a most exciting and elusive frontier. A lasting legacy of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes is the discovery and characterization of galaxies to redshift z∼11, looking back 97% of the time to the Big Bang. I will review our current sketch of galaxy build-up at cosmic dawn, highlighting fundamental questions that remain unanswered: when did the first galaxies form, what is their role in reionizing cosmic Hydrogen, and how do they evolve into the galaxies we observe at later times? The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope later this year will be an absolute game changer. JWST will deliver ultra-sensitive imaging and spectroscopy at wavelengths previously inaccessible. I will look ahead and discuss several initiatives in Webb's first year that address key outstanding issues, including our program UNCOVER, which aims to explore the so-called "Dark Ages" (10 < z < 20), the period after Recombination when the first stars and galaxies formed.
4/28/2021 - Lori Lubin (UC-Davis)
Title: Understanding Cluster Formation and Galaxy Evolution ... ORELSE
Abstract: The Observations of Redshift Evolution in Large Scale Environments (ORELSE) Survey is a systematic photometric and spectroscopic search for structure on scales > 10 Mpc around 18 known clusters at 0.6 < z < 1.3. The survey covers 5 square degrees, all targeted at high-density regions, making it comparable in area and spectral coverage to historic extragalactic field surveys. The goal of the survey is to study galaxy evolution across all scales -- from dense cluster cores to infall/intermediate-density regions to the field. In this talk, I describe the survey design, the galaxy sample, and our novel environmental metrics. I present some recent results on using the large galaxy sample to create a quantifiable cluster catalog, measure galaxy properties as a function of stellar mass, environment, and redshift, and constrain the nature of the active galaxy population. Finally, I describe our latest survey C3VO, which combines ORELSE with the higher-redshift survey VUDS to chart cluster formation and its effect on member galaxies over the last 12 billion years.
5/5/2021 - Sean Johnson (University of Michigan)
Title: Observations of the gas flows that govern galaxy evolution in absorption and emission at z<1
Abstract: Galaxy growth is regulated by gas accretion from the intergalactic medium (IGM) and feedback from supernova and AGN-driven winds. The low-density halo gas around galaxies known as the circum-galactic medium (CGM) is at the nexus of these baryon cycles and represents both a dominant reservoir for fueling future growth and a fossil record of past feedback. Advancing our physical understanding of galaxy evolution requires observations of the gas cycles between the interstellar medium (ISM), CGM, and IGM. I will review three recent, and ongoing surveys that provide unique insights into the gas flows around galaxies through the combination of multi-wavelength datasets from Hubble, Magellan, and VLT. These surveys demonstrate that: (1) Metal-enriched gas around low-redshift galaxies is predominantly confined to galaxy halos -- even in the shallow-potential wells of low-mass star-forming dwarfs. (2) Galaxy interactions play a key role in distributing gas from the ISM to the CGM while also likely triggering black hole growth. And (3) the putative hot wind component of AGN outflows is dynamically unimportant in a prototypical galactic-scale AGN superwind. Each of these results represents a surprising first glance from surveys that will expand dramatically over the next few years.
5/12/2021 - Guido Roberts-Borsani (UCLA)
Title: Age-dating galaxies in the Reionization era and pinpointing the timing of Cosmic Dawn
Abstract: One of the major quests of modern extragalactic astronomy is to pinpoint the birth of the first stars and galaxies. To this end, NIR surveys with Hubble and ground-based telescopes do not probe far enough into the NIR to directly detect the very first objects - such a feat will have to await the NIR capabilities of JWST. However, recent results using the Spitzer Space Telescope have revealed a promising alternative: observations of bright, z>9 sources for which especially red photometric colours reveal the presence of a so-called 'Balmer break', indicative of mature (>100 Myrs) stellar populations that can greatly aid in age-dating the earliest galaxies. At lower redshifts, however, the cause of such red Spitzer/IRAC colours is not so clear cut: large degeneracies arise due to the contamination of the Spitzer/IRAC filters by strong nebular emission lines from young stars. Thus, distinguishing between the two is imperative to constrain the star formation histories of bright, Reionization-era galaxies. In this talk I will detail our recent efforts to constrain the star formation histories of z>7 galaxies using a combination of detailed photometric modelling as well as a ground-based spectroscopic campaign (with Keck, the VLT, ALMA and Gemini) and demonstrate how the arrival of JWST will unambiguously determine the ages of the first galaxies.
5/26/2021 - Emily Rice (City University of New York)
Science of All Stripes:
Creating an Eclectic Academic Career and Broadening Inclusivity
The landscape of academic science has changed significantly in recent decades and is poised to change even more in the near future. We can leverage these cultural changes to create an environment that is both inclusive to more people and effective in preparing students (science majors and non-majors alike) for a wider variety of careers and more broadly defined success. I’ll share my own path to science, including graduate school at UCLA, and a variety of science projects I have been involved in along the way to becoming tenured faculty at the City University of New York, including: planetarium shows, parody music videos, media appearances, Astronomy on Tap public outreach events, STARtorialist science fashion blog and shop, the AstroCom NYC research mentorship program, and the BDNYC brown dwarf research group. The implicit mission that connects these eclectic projects is to expand support for, participation in, and even the definition of science.
1/6/2021 - Leslie Rogers (U. Chicago)
Title: Journey to the Center of the Super-Earth
Abstract: Sub-Neptune, super-Earth size exoplanets are a new planet class. Though absent from the Solar System, they are found by microlensing, radial velocity, and transit surveys to be common around distant stars. In this talk, I'll review both recent developments and outstanding puzzles in our understanding of the nature and origin of these enigmatic planets.
1/20/2021 - Ilya Mandel (Monash University)
Title: The promise of gravitational-wave astrophysics
Abstract: The first detections of gravitational waves from compact-object mergers have opened up new opportunities and challenges in astrophysics. I will survey the plausible formation scenarios for merging compact-object binaries. I will then describe ongoing efforts to extract the astrophysical evolution of massive stellar binaries from observations of gravitational waves emitted during mergers of the stellar remnants.
1/27/2021 - Charlotte Mason (Harvard/CfA)
Title: Constraining Reionization with Lyman Alpha Emission
Abstract: The reionization of hydrogen in the Universe's first billion years was likely started by photons from the first galaxies. We will probably never observe these galaxies directly, but their properties can be inferred by measuring the timeline and morphology of reionization. I will describe how we can use galaxies at our current observational frontiers to measure the reionization process. In particular, both the strength and line shape of Lyman alpha (Lyα) emission can probe the intergalactic medium (IGM), but modelling physics from pc to Gpc scales is required. I will describe how we can constrain the timeline of reionization and properties of ionizing bubbles by comparing observations of both Lyman-break and Lyman-alpha selected galaxies to models and simulations using statistical inference methods. I will present measurements which favour a late and relatively rapid reionization, and place these in the context of high redshift galaxy formation.
2/3/2021 - Subo Dong (Peking University)
Title: Direct Collision of White Dwarfs as a Possible Major Channel for Type Ia Supernovae
Abstract: The explosion mechanism of Type Ia supernovae (SN Ia) is unknown. The continuity in the properties of SNe Ia across the luminosity function suggests a single dominant channel to explain the population. We argue that direct collisions of white dwarfs may be promising as such a major channel. I will present results of our efforts to test the collision model.
2/10/2021 - Natalie Hinkel (Southwest Research Institute)
Title: The Star-Planet Connection: Using Stellar Elemental Abundances to Understand Exoplanets
Abstract: The future for exoplanet science is dependent not only on successful missions such as TESS, WFIRST, and JWST, but also on building bridges to the geology, planetary science, and data science communities. It is by using the resources and experiences from these other disciplines that we can uncover more subtle trends within exoplanetary data and establish a holistic connection between stars and planets. As part of my interdisciplinary research, I study the patterns in stellar abundances using the Hypatia Catalog, the largest elemental abundance dataset for stars near to the Sun. Because stars and planets are formed at the same time, meaningful connections can be made between the chemical properties of stars and their orbiting planets. I will discuss how stellar abundances may be used to determine planetary structure and mineralogy, which impacts the crustal composition, tectonic processes, and other planetary geochemical cycles which directly influence the overall habitability. Using more data driven techniques, I will describe a Netflix-esque recommendation algorithm to determine which stars in the solar neighborhood are likely to host to-date undetected giant exoplanets, based on the abundances of specific elements within stars. Finally, I will outline the steps needed in the near future to truly define planetary habitability per the physical and chemical relationship between stars and planets.
2/17/2021 - Masami Ouchi (University of Tokyo)
Title: Co-evolution of Galaxies and the Inter-Galactic Medium over z~0-10 Being Uncovered with Large Telescopes Including Subaru, ALMA, and SKA
Abstract: In a widely accepted physical picture of galaxy formation, galaxies grow by inflow of the inter-galactic medium (IGM) via filaments of the large-scale structures. The process of inflow triggers star formation that makes massive stars providing metal-rich gas in the inter-stellar medium (ISM). The thermal and kinetic energy of massive stars and supernovae produce gas outflow and UV radiation via the circum-galactic medium (CGM), which proceed the IGM metal enrichment and cosmic reionization, respectively. To understand the process of galaxy formation over the galaxy (ISM+CGM) to the cosmology (IGM) scales by observations, one needs to investigate a combination of gas distribution, metal abundance, and dynamics/ionization states, in contrast with many of previous observational studies.
This talk reviews our recent results of galaxies (ISM+CGM) and IGM at z~0-10 observed with various large telescopes including Subaru and ALMA, and discuss the interplay of matter/radiation exchanges between galaxies and the IGM over the cosmic history. I touch future prospects, introducing the next generation studies of the galaxy-IGM interplay at the epoch of reionization by a combination of the forthcoming optical/near-infrared and 21cm SKA radio observations.
3/4/2021 - Karl Glazebrook (Swinburne University of Technology)
Title: Monsters in the Deep: Massive quiescent galaxies at z~4 and above
Abstract: The last few years has seen the spectroscopic confirmation of significant populations of massive quiescent galaxies at redshifts of 4 and above, providing a significant challenge to models of early galaxy assembly. This has raised a number of important questions such as (i) are they truly quiescent? Has star formation been obscured? (ii) are their stellar masses correct? Can we measure dynamical masses? (iii) how much tension is there with simulations? (iv) where are their ancestors? This topic is to get exciting new data as new surveys from the ground and space will allow us to find the earliest massive galaxies at even higher redshift and spectroscopy of these from JWST will tell us the nature of the first stellar populations.
3/10/2021 - Brad Hansen and Ben Zuckerman (UCLA)
Title: Fight or Flight? Exploring some options available to long-lived technological civilizations in the Milky Way
Abstract: We will give two 25 min talks related to the astrophysical constraints on the lifetime of a technological civilization in the Milky Way, in the face of stellar evolution of its original host star.
The first talk will examine strategies to mitigate the high cost of migration from one star to another by waiting for the closest approach of another star (the "flight" option). The second talk will examine the constraints on the frequency of civilizations that attempt to survive by adjusting to life in orbit around a white dwarf (the "fight" option).
10/7/2020 - Tim Brandt (UCSB)
Title: Discovering, Weighing, and Characterizing Exoplanets and Brown Dwarfs
Abstract: I will present a combination of three observational techniques--astrometry, radial velocity, and imaging--to discover, weigh, and characterize massive exoplanets and brown dwarfs. While thousands of planets are known, only a few have both measured masses (from radial velocity and astrometry) and atmospheric properties (inferred from spectra). Advances in adaptive optics and infrared instrumentation now enable us to see young exoplanets millions of times fainter than their host stars. Despite huge gains in sensitivity, however, high-contrast imaging surveys remain plagued by a lack of discoveries. I have calibrated a huge data set of stellar reflex motions; it can identify unseen planets and brown dwarfs by the gravitational tugs they exert on their host stars, and enable us to measure their masses and orbits. With masses, orbits, and spectra of a growing sample of planets and brown dwarfs, we can finally test models of substellar formation and evolution.
10/14/2020 - Rachel Bezanson (University of Pittsburgh)
Title: The Formation of Massive Galaxies: deep, high-redshift spectroscopy from the LEGA-C and SQUIGGLE Surveys and Beyond
Abstract: Massive galaxies reside in the densest and most evolved regions of the Universe, yet we are only beginning to understand their formation history. Today massive galaxies are red and dead ellipticals with little ongoing star formation or organized rotation; naturally they were expected to be relics of a much earlier formation epoch. In this talk I will describe the complex evolutionary history of massive galaxies that has emerged over the last decade, discussing the structural and kinematic evolution of massive galaxies during and after they stopped forming stars (“quenched”) and eventually transformed from rotationally supported disks into kinematically hot ellipticals. I will describe ongoing efforts to better understand this metamorphosis at intermediate redshifts, highlighting results from the ultra-deep LEGA-C spectroscopic survey of ~3000 massive galaxies at z~0.8 and the focused multi-wavelength SQUIGGLE survey of post-starburst galaxies at z~0.6 caught immediately following their cosmic shutdown. I will show that early quiescent galaxies, retained significant rotational support (~twice as much as local ellipticals), implying that the mechanisms responsible for shutting down star formation do not also have to destroy ordered motion. Furthermore, I will describe first results from the SQUIGGLE survey, including the ALMA discovery of vast reservoirs (~1010 Msun) of cold molecular hydrogen remaining in young post-starburst galaxies caught a few 100 Myrs after quenching their primary episodes of star formation. This enigmatic result suggests that the quenching process does not have to fully heat or deplete the gas to halt star formation. Finally, I will discuss prospects for extending spectroscopic studies of galaxies at cosmic noon - the peak of massive galaxy formation and shutdown - with JWST and eventually 30-m class telescopes.
10/21/2020 - Mark Morris (UCLA)
Title: New Floodlights on the Galactic Wind
Abstract: While there has long been a limited amount of morphological and dynamical evidence for an outflow from the central regions of our Galaxy, the last decade has seen an explosive growth in the evidence for a powerful Galactic wind on all scales, starting with the discovery of the gamma-ray Fermi Bubbles. While the lower boundaries of the Fermi Bubbles are nested within a hot plasma seen in soft X-rays and in the form of a “microwave haze,” the connection of these large-scale features to activity in the Galactic center was not evident until recent X-ray and radio continuum observations revealed the "Galactic center chimneys” extending a few hundred parsecs out from the center and connecting to the bases of the Fermi Bubbles. In this talk I will describe what we have learned about these Galactic exhaust channels using a multi-wavelength approach. I will also describe the recent discovery of a population of relatively dense atomic and molecular clouds that have apparently been accelerated out of the Galaxy’s central molecular zone up to hundreds of km/s by the much faster hot plasma constituting the bulk of the Galactic wind.
10/28/2020 - Ana Bonaca (CfA/ITC)
Title: Uncovering the nature of dark matter with stellar streams in the Milky Way
Abstract: Stars orbiting in the halo of our galaxy, the Milky Way, are a window into the distribution of dark matter. Tidally disrupting star clusters are especially valuable tracers, because in pristine conditions they produce thin stellar streams of nearly uniform density. I will present maps of stellar streams based on the latest photometric and astrometric data that reveal variations in the width and density of streams -- typical signatures of dynamical perturbation. Dynamical modeling of a perturbed stream GD-1 suggests it recently had a close encounter with a massive and dense perturber, while precise radial velocities constrain the perturber's orbit and present-day location. Known baryonic objects are unlikely perturbers based on their orbital properties, but observations permit a low-mass dark-matter subhalo as a plausible candidate. Data being delivered by big ground-based surveys of this decade (e.g., DESI, LSST) will enable such studies in hundreds of stellar streams. I will discuss how the upcoming observations can be used to measure the mass spectrum of dark-matter substructures and even identify individual substructures and their orbits in the Milky Way halo.
11/4/2020 - Arpita Roy (STScI)
Title: SECRETS OF THE INSTRUMENT BUILDERS
Abstract: The study of exoplanets, arguably more than any other field of astrophysics, has grown in direct consonance with new instrumentation. Currently in build+commissioning phases are planet hunting Doppler spectrographs aiming at 10-30cm/s RV precision in the optical in quest for Earth analogs, and <1m/s in the near-infrared in pursuit of M dwarf planets. These massive instruments leverage a range of technological advances, from high-homogeneity illumination delivery setups, to sophisticated wavelength calibration, ultra stable environmental control, and precision data analysis. Building these instruments is a storied journey of failure and success, innovation and disappointment. In this talk we will delve into the experience and lessons that come from technologically pushing the field forward, as well as the complexity and sophistication of these systems that will enable ground-breaking new science.
11/11/2020 - Veterans Day holiday - no Colloquium
11/18/2020 - Chris Fassnacht (UCD)
Title: Investigating the Nature of Dark Matter with Gravitational Lenses
Abstract: The nature of dark matter is one of the major questions facing not only astrophysics, but also high-energy physics. Our "standard model" of cosmology, Lambda CDM, provides an excellent match to observations of the Universe on large scales, but there are some indications that the model may not adequately reproduce observations on galaxy scales and smaller. As a result, alternative dark matter models have been proposed to explain the discrepancies. A powerful way to test these non-CDM models is to determine the statistics of low-mass halos, since some of the models (e.g., warm dark matter) predict fewer halos at low masses than CDM. In the interesting mass range where the predictions from WDM diverge strongly from those of CDM, halos are expected to host very few to no stars, making their detection difficult. Strong gravitational lensing provides an excellent complement to Local Group observations, especially because it can detect purely dark halos at even cosmological distances. In this talk I will discuss two methods of using gravitational lenses to detect low-mass halos and present some recent results, as well as giving some thoughts about future efforts to use these techniques.
11/25/2020 - Thanksgiving holiday - no Colloquium
12/2/2020 - Jorge G. Moreno (Pomona College)
Title: Spatially Resolved Galaxy Interactions
Abstract: For decades, late-stage galaxy mergers have been recognized as naturally occurring events within the hierarchical LCDM paradigm, capable of triggering starburst and quasars. Early-stage mergers (interactions), albeit not as dramatic as their late-stage counterparts, are believed to shape galaxies in gentler and more long-lasting ways: by enhancing star formation, suppressing gas metallicity, igniting AGNs, augmenting H2 fuel, etc. But more importantly, their cumulative effect may ultimately stimulate the transformation of spirals into lenticulars in dense environments. The focus of this talk is to address the spatial structure and evolution of star formation and the interstellar medium (ISM) in interacting galaxies. We use an extensive suite of parsec-scale galaxy merger simulations (stellar mass ratio = 2.5:1), which employs the "Feedback In Realistic Environments-" model (FIRE-2). This framework resolves star formation, feedback processes, and the multi-phase structure of the ISM. We focus on the galaxy-pair stages of interaction. We find that close encounters substantially augment cool (HI) and cold-dense (H2) gas budgets, elevating the formation of new stars as a result. This enhancement is centrally-concentrated for the secondary galaxy, and more radially extended for the primary. This behaviour is weakly dependent on orbital geometry. We also find that galaxies with elevated global star formation rate (SFR) experience intense nuclear SFR enhancement, driven by high levels of either star formation efficiency (SFE) or available cold-dense gas fuel. Galaxies with suppressed global SFR also contain a nuclear cold-dense gas reservoir, but low SFE levels diminish SFR in the central region. Concretely, in the majority of cases, SFR-enhancement in the central kiloparsec is fuel-driven (55% for the secondary, 71% for the primary) -- whilst central SFR-suppression is efficiency-driven (91% for the secondary, 97% for the primary). Our numerical predictions underscore the need of substantially larger, and/or merger-dedicated, spatially-resolved (integral-field spectroscopic) galaxy surveys -- capable of examining vast and diverse samples of interacting systems -- coupled with multi-wavelength campaigns aimed to capture their internal ISM structure.
12/9/2020 - Sara Seager (MIT)
Title: The Search for Signs of Life Beyond Earth by Way of Atmospheric Biosignature Gases
Abstract: For thousands of years, inspired by the star-filled dark night sky, people have wondered what lies beyond Earth. Today, the search for signs of life is a key factor in modern-day planetary exploration, both for in situ exploration of our own Solar System’s planets and moons and for telescope remote sensing of exoplanets orbiting nearby stars. We aim to detect a gas in a planetary atmosphere that might be attributed to life. A suitable “biosignature gas” must: be able to accumulate in an atmosphere against atmospheric radicals and other sinks; have strong atmospheric spectral features; and have limited abiological false positives. The study of biosignature gases is thus intertwined with chemistry. Life on Earth produces thousands of gases. Which gases might be potential biosignatures in an as yet unknown range of possibly exotic exoplanetary environments? New computer simulations and next generation telescopes soon coming on line make us the first generation with the capability to search for signs of life on what should be a growing number of suitable exoplanets. We might be surprised by finding biosignature gases on planets closer to home in our own Solar System, such as phosphine on Venus, motivating new space missions for in situ exploration.
Astrophysics Colloquium Archive