Missions for Exoplanets From the Nanoscale to Megascale
Speaker: James Lloyd, Cornell University
Department: Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
Location: Bowen Hall Auditorium 222
Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 2013, 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
The characterization of extrasolar earth-like atmospheres for biosignatures remains one of the most compelling and elusive challenges in astronomy. Coronagraphy, nulling interferometry and free-flying occulters have been advanced as potential techniques to accomplish this gaol, and remain under vigorous study for missions to happen at some point in the indeterminate future. In contrast to the postponement of large flagship missions, small satellite development and launches are rapidly accelerating. Cornell's first nanosatellite, CUSat, is scheduled to launch later in 2013. Cornell's second nanosatellite, Violet, is in integration and test phase. Violet will carry a limb-sounding spectrometer to measure the absorption spectrum of the Earth's atmosphere in the same geometry that we would see the absorption spectrum of a transiting extrasolar earth. I will also discuss two missions in conceptual development: a small satellite to image the dust wake structures in the solar system zodiacal cloud, and a concept for a large far-infrared coherent interferometer. The far-infrared is rich in molecular features, particularly transitions of the key biosignature molecules water and ozone. The high spectral resolution achievable with coherent detection further enables unambiguous molecular inventory of an atmosphere and retrieval of atmospheric temperature-pressure-composition profiles The level of detail that can be obtained on atmospheres is such that the goals of detection and detailed characterization of biosignatures can be accomplished by the same mission.