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Departmental Colloquium

Exoplanets Exposed: The current revolution in directly imaging exoplanetary systems  
Guest Speaker
Paul Kalas  
Guest Affiliation
UC Berkeley  
Thursday, November 20, 2014 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm  
Physics Auditorium (Rm. 202)  

There are now several thousand planets known outside of our solar system, but most have been discovered by indirect means. Directly imaging exoplanets is an enormous challenge, sometimes compared to detecting a firefly next to a lighthouse. The last time a newplanet had been discovered through astronomical imaging was our own Neptune in 1846. Within the last ten years, however, advances in space and ground-based instrumentation have provided a handful of new exoplanets discovered by direct imaging. Here I will review the techniques that are used and the Hubble Space Telescope discovery of an exotic planet called Fomalhaut b. Among the directly imaged exoplanets,Fomalhaut b has unexpected characteristics, such as a relatively blue spectrum and a highly eccentric orbit, leading to hypotheses that it is a gravitationally scattered, low-mass planet hosting a giant planetary dust ring or cloud seen in reflected light. Also in 2013-2014, the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) was successfully commissioned. I will review our accomplishments with GPI so far and discuss our research plan that over the next three years will provide an atlas of 25-50 new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.