Research

Astrometerology: The atmospheric characterization of sub-stellar objects “Are we alone” – This is an eternal question that has haunted humanity for as long as we have been sentient. Searching for habitable worlds is a quest that I have undertaken as an astronomer. The atmosphere of these worlds is one of the best tools we have in this search, since it acts as a window into the myriad properties of the planet.

A word jumble indicating my research interests :).

Here’s a brief list of the projects I am currently working on –

Project 1: Determining the Atmosphere of HR8799 with HST/WFC3

Benjamin_Zuckerman_HR_8799_planets_image_Dec._2010
HR8799 bcde  (image credit – Marois et al. 2012)

I am part of a team studying the exoplanet system HR8799. The main goals of the program are: to measure photometry in the water band and neighboring pseudo-continuum which are unobservable from the ground. These measurements will provide a crucial constraint on the spectral energy distribution at short wavelengths, improving our ability to measure the effective temperatures, surface gravities, cloud composition and the atmospheric chemical equilibria of these planets. 

 

Project 2: The Brown dwarf Atmosphere Monitoring (BAM) Project

Exoplanets are very faint when compared to their host stars. This intrinsic faintness works against us when trying to characterize the planet.  Luckily there is a class of objects known as “Brown Dwarfs” which closely mimic the atmospheric behavior of large gas-giant planets.

SurveyPlot

 

The BAM project was initiated to try and understand the atmospheric dynamics of brown dwarfs across their complete measured temperature range. The project currently consists of two surveys searching for variability. The results of both projects have been submitted to journals and are currently in the peer-review process.

Project 3: Census of Young Planets with the Gemini Planet Imager

Planet mass as a function of separation from the host star. The blue region highlights where GPI will be most sensitive to planets.

The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is one of the most sophisticated instruments ever built for the purpose of detecting and characterizing exoplanets. GPI will carry out a census designed to detect and characterize planets in the critical 5-50 AU region required to fully understand the architecture of planetary systems. The GPI team, of which I am a member, has been approved 900 hrs to survey ~600 young, and nearby stars, starting in late 2013.