AAS 198th Meeting, June 2001
Session 77. The Promise and Pitfalls of High Contrast Imaging
Display, Thursday, June 7, 2001, 9:20am-4:00pm, Exhibit Hall

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[77.15] A Model of the Temporal Variability of Optical Light from Extrasolar Terrestrial Planets

E.B. Ford (Princeton University), S. Seager (Institute for Advanced Study), E.L. Turner (Princeton University)

New observatories such as TPF (NASA) and Darwin (ESA) are being designed to detect light directly from terrestrial-mass planets. Such observations will provide new data to constrain theories of planet formation and may identify the possible presence of liquid water and even spectroscopic signatures suggestive of life. We model the light scattered by Earth-like planets focusing on temporal variability due to planetary rotation and weather. Since a majority of the scattered light comes from only a small fraction of the planet's surface, significant variations in brightness are possible. The variations can be as large as a factor of two for a cloud-free planet which has a range of albedos similar to those of the different surfaces found on Earth. If a significant fraction of the observed light is scattered by the planet's atmosphere, including clouds, then the amplitude of variations due to surface features will be diluted. Atmospheric variability (e.g. clouds) itself is extremely interesting because it provides evidence for weather. The planet's rotation period, fractional ice and cloud cover, gross distribution of land and water on the surface, large scale weather patterns, large regions of unusual reflectivity or color (such as major desserts or vegetation's "red edge") as well as the geometry of its spin, orbit, and illumination relative to the observer all have substantial effects on the planet's rotational light curve.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: eford@princeton.edu

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