Colloquium: The Terrestrial Planets of Other Stars

Professor David Charbonneau, Harvard University

When exoplanets transit their parent stars, we are granted an unparalleled opportunity to detect their presence and study their bulk properties.  I will review recent analyses of data from the NASA Kepler Mission to deduce the rate of occurrence of small planets.  I will then present follow up measurements of the acceleration of a subset of the host stars, which allows us to estimate the planetary masses and hence densities.  Finally, I will discuss recent findings from the MEarth Project, which seeks to discover the most spectroscopically accessible terrestrial exoplanets.  Our recent discovery of a temperate rocky world orbiting the nearby small star LHS1140 provides an unprecedented opportunity to detect the molecules present in the atmosphere of a terrestrial exoplanet.