Prof. Stanimir Metchev
Department of Physics and Astronomy
7:30 pm Room 001 ESS Building
Friday, December 3, 2010

Extremely High-Contrast Astronomical Imaging - the Dawn of Comparative Exoplanetology

Only two years ago astronomical high-contrast imaging technology enabled the much anticipated direct imaging detection of extrasolar planets. These first images of other planetary systems unequivocally demonstrated what has been suggested by Doppler planet-search techniques for over 15 years: that our own solar system is far from unique in our galaxy. Still, the routine imaging of planets around other stars remains beyond the reach of current telescope technology. High-contrast imaging through the Earth's turbulent atmosphere is fraught with challenges. The requisite imaging precision, of order 1 part in 10 million, has so far been attained only in carefully controlled laboratory environments.

The situation is due to change in 2011 with the arrival of the first extreme contrast imaging systems on astronomical telescopes. The Gemini Planet Imager on the Gemini South 8m telescope, and the PALM-3000 instrument on the Palomar 5m telescope, will inaugur an era when the imaging of extrasolar planets and the spectroscopic study of their atmospheres will become routine. Stony Brook astronomers are involved in the science planning for both of these instruments. I will surmise some of the exciting discoveries that we anticipate to make with these cutting-edge facilities, and will preview what we expect to learn about our own planetary system as a result.

Prof. Metchev arrived at Stony Brook as an assistant professor in 2008. His research focuses on extrasolar planets, brown dwarfs, and nearby young stars. He lives with his family in Huntington.