Heidelberg University

The physics and observability of exoplanet atmospheres

Thomas Mikal-Evans, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy


One of the fastest growing fields of astronomical research is the study of planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun, known as 'exoplanets'. Since the mid-1990s, more than 4800 exoplanets have been discovered, exhibiting a great diversity across properties such as size, composition, and orbital architecture. One of the strongest motivations for exploring this rich family tree of planetary systems is to place our own solar system into a broader cosmic context. This course will focus on the physical theory of exoplanet atmospheres and efforts to characterise them empirically. Topics to be covered include radiative transfer, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and atmospheric escape, along with associated observational signatures. Methods for measuring the subtle signals of exoplanet atmospheres will be described, along with the practical challenges and results that have been obtained to date. A taste of what can be expected in the coming years will also be given, as the field enters a new era in which progress will be driven by next-generation facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope.