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Near-infrared Characterization of the Atmospheres of Alien Worlds

Bryce Croll

Doctor of Philosophy 2011
Graduate Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto

In this thesis I present near-infrared detections of the thermal emission of a number of hot Jupiters and likely transit depth differences from different wavelength observations of a super-Earth. I have pioneered “Staring Mode” using the Wide-field Infrared Camera on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope to achieve the most accurate photometry to-date in the near- infrared from the ground. I also discuss avenues that should allow one to achieve even more accurate photometry in the future. Using WIRCam on CFHT my collaborators and I have detected the thermal emission of the following hot Jupiters: TrES-2b and TrES-3b in Ks-band, WASP-12b in the J, H & Ks-bands, and WASP-3b in the Ks-band on two occasions. Near-infrared detections of the thermal emission of hot Jupiters are important, because the majority of these planets’ blackbodies peak in this wavelength range; near-infrared detections allow us to obtain the most model-independent constraints on these planets’ atmospheric characteristics, their temperature-pressure profiles with depth and an estimate of their bolometric luminosities. With these detections we are able to answer such questions as: how efficiently these planets redistribute heat to their nightsides, if they’re being inflated by tidal heating, whether there’s any evidence that one of these planets is precessing, and whether another experiences extreme weather and violent storms?

My collaborators and I have also observed several transits of the super-Earth GJ 1214b. We find a deeper transit depth in one of our near-infrared bands than the other. This is likely indicative of a spectral absorption feature. For the differences in the transit depth to be as large as we observed, the atmosphere of GJ 1214b must have a large scale height, low mean molecular weight and thus have a hydrogen/helium dominated atmosphere. Given that other researchers have not found similar transit depth differences, we also discuss the most likely atmospheric makeup for this planet that results from a combination of all the observations to date.

Lastly, by searching for long-term linear trends in radial velocity data, I constrain the theory that most hot Jupiters migrated to their present positions via the Kozai mechanism with tidal heating.

Reproduced with permission. library@astro.utoronto.ca
July 25, 2011