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Characterizing Dusty Debris in Exoplanetary Systems

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Principal Investigator: Christine Chen, Space Telescope Science Institute

Program Summary:

Studying debris disks is one of the frontiers of exoplanet science because observations of these objects provide direct constraints on planetary system formation and planet migration around other stars. To date, twenty-four debris disks have been spatially resolved in scattered light, revealing the location of the dust and the albedos of the grains when compared with thermal emission measurements. Although these observations help break some of the degeneracies between composition, size, porosity, and shape, the detailed grain properties are still not well understood. A key limitation is that the previous generation of instruments lacked the contrast and image fidelity to detect dust disks within a ~1.5 arcsec radius. Therefore the thermally emitting dust detected close to the star is not the same cold grain population detected by scattered light observations far from the star. We propose to obtain Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) Integral Field Spectroscopy (IFS) and Polarimetry of all of the debris disks spatially resolved in scattered light observable from Gemini South. GPI offers an unprecedented discovery space by virtue of its small inner working angle and sensitivity using dual channel polarimetry. IFS observations will be sensitive to spectral features and better constrain the color of the scattered light and therefore the particle composition and size. Polarimetry will allow us to break the degeneracy in forward scattering between particle size and porosity. Our team will combine the proposed GPI observations with complementary high contrast imaging and thermal mapping data from HST, MagAO, and ALMA to develop holistic models that will significantly improve our understanding of the materials available during the late stages of planetary system formation.


  • Sebastian Bruzzone, University of Western Ontario
  • Elodie Choquet, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • John Debes, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Jessica Donaldson, Carnegie Institution of Washington (Terrestrial Magn.)
  • Zachary Draper, University of Victoria
  • Gaspard Duchene, UC Berkeley (Astronomy)
  • Tom Esposito, UC Los Angeles
  • Mike Fitzgerald, UC Los Angeles
  • David Golimowski, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Dean Hines, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Sasha Hinkley, University of Exeter
  • Meredith Hughes, Wesleyan University
  • Paul Kalas, UC Berkeley (Astronomy)
  • Ludmilla Kolokolova, University of Maryland
  • Samantha Lawler, University of Victoria
  • Brenda Matthews, University of Victoria
  • Stan Metchev, University of Western Ontario
  • Max Millar-Blanchaer, University of Toronto
  • Amaya Moro-Martin, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Erika Nesvold, University of Maryland
  • Debbie Padgett, Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Jenny Patience, Arizona State University
  • Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Laurent Pueyo, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Fredrik Rantakyro, Gemini Observatory - South
  • Timothy Rodigas, Carnegie Institution of Washington (Terrestrial Magn.)
  • Glenn Schneider, University of Arizona (Astronomy)
  • Remi Soummer, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Inseok Song, University of Georgia
  • Chris Stark, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Alycia Weinberger, Carnegie Institution of Washington (Terrestrial Magn.)
  • David Wilner, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics