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2008 Annual Science Report

University of Arizona Reporting  |  JUL 2007 – JUN 2008

Executive Summary

LAPLACE Annual Report Executive Summary

This year has been a substantial one for benefiting from the resources and activities of the previous years. The astrochemistry module, module 1 has been focused on the study of circumstellar material ejected from cool stars because this constitutes about 80% of the material that becomes available for formation of new stars and planetary systems. Four themes have come to the fore:
1) Where is the carbon? Most models have assumed that carbon is mainly present in the form of CO. However observations of oxygen rich stars, especially Supergiants show that to be incorrect. The form of the majority of the carbon is at present unknown.
2) Why are carbon isotopic ratios so widely ranging? Here the analysis of observations shows that in M giant stages (presumably mostly before helium ignition, there must be huge mass loss an mixing to ... Continue reading.

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Project Reports

  • Module 2: Formation of Habitable Planetary Systems

    Our goal is to understand the physical processes that lead to planet formation, with a focus on aspects that determine the suitability of those planets to harbor life. Our main tool to accomplish this goal is observational astronomy. We utilize a variety of ground- and space-based telescopes across the electro-magnetic spectrum to make observations of circumstellar disks around sun-like as a function of the age of each system in order to constrain theories of planet formation and evolution. A central aspect of this work is to understand chemical processes that occur in disks and how such processes determine the structure and composition of the planets formed from them.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 3.1
  • Module 1: The Building Blocks of Life

    Molecular material that may lead to life on planet surfaces has its origin in interstellar space. Using a combination of laboratory spectroscopic measurements and radio astronomical observations, this module has been tracing the life cycle of carbon and phosphorus containing compounds from their formation in outflows around old stars to their arrival on planet surfaces via exogenous delivery. We have been investigating what carbon and phosphorus compounds are found in matter lost from stars, and how the chemical composition changes as this material flows into the interstellar medium and forms dense clouds
    in space. We are following what happens to these compounds as these clouds evolve into solar systems, and how comets, meteorites, and dust particles may have brought interstellar pre-biotic material to Earth and other planets.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 4.2 7.1
  • Module 3: Nature of Planetary Systems

    Module 3: the Nature of Planetary Systems focuses on the direct detection and characterization of extrasolar planetary systems. As a complement to the successful radial velocity surveys, direct detection can further our understanding of planets in wide orbits with long periods. The module activity is divided into four areas: development of high contrast techniques, survey observations, and modeling of giant planet spectral energy distributions,
    planning for space missions. A separate report has been made of a study for space observations of Earth to explore observational and interpretive techniques.

    Research Overview
    LAPLACE is developing adaptive optics, differential imaging, and diffraction suppression techniques to optimize sensitivity levels of direct imaging surveys.
     A near infrared survey at H (1.65 μm) band using the VLT and MMT is being carried out to obtain direct images of young planets around nearby stars.
     A thermal infrared survey at L’ (3.8 μm) and M (4.8 μm) band survey using the MMT is being carried out to obtain direct images of older, cooler planets around the nearest stars.
    LAPLACE is developing detailed radiative transfer models of planetary atmospheres to predict flux levels for direct detection of planets using ground-based telescopes, HST, Spitzer, and JWST.
    NASA HQ is funding a study of a space mission PECO, refining a Phase Induced Amplitude Apodization Coronograph (with principal investigator Olivier Guyon, a new hire in Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona). Members of the science team for this mission study include Roger Angel and Neville Woolf of this module, and Michael Meyer of module 2. Other local team members are Glenn Schneider of Steward Observatory and Steven Ridgeway of NOAO. Also James Kasting of the Penn State NAI team is a member. Study partners include JPL, NASA Ames, Lockheed Martin and ITT.