AAS 199th meeting, Washington, DC, January 2002
Session 115. Extra-Solar Planet Astronomy from the Present to TPF
Special Session Oral, Wednesday, January 9, 2002, 2:00-3:30pm, International Ballroom East

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[115.04] Detection by Transit Photometry

W. J. Borucki, D. G. Koch (NASA Ames Research Center), J. M. Jenkins (SETI Institute)

A periodic sequence of planetary transits provides a valid detection of an orbiting planet and provides the relative size of the planet and its orbital period. Ancillary measurements of the stellar spectrum and the variations of the star's radial velocity or position combined with stellar models allow the absolute size of the planet and its mass to be obtained. The results of this approach have already shown that the planet orbiting HD209458 has only 70% of the mass of Jupiter, but is nearly 50% larger in radius. Thus its density is much less than Jupiter and Saturn and is actually less than that of water; i.e., about 0.4 gr/cm3. If more sensitive measurements of the light curve of stars with closely orbiting planets can be made that provide the varying amplitude of the light reflected by the planet at various phases in its orbit, then characteristics of the planetary atmosphere can be obtained. Potentially, these data can identify major molecular species present in the atmosphere and tell us if clouds are present and yield the phase function of the aerosols.

Although such detail cannot be obtained for Earth-size planets because their signal amplitudes are too small, it is possible to get data critical to the determination of the structure of extrasolar planetary systems. In particular, the size distributions and their orbital distributions can be measured by the transit photometry missions now in development. The COROT mission should be able to find large terrestrial planets in short-period orbits while the more ambitious Kepler and Eddington missions should be able to detect planets even smaller than the Earth and at orbital distances that place them in the habitable zone of their stars.

This work was funded by a grant from the NASA Origins Program.

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