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One of the big challenges for 21st century stellar astrophysics is the impact of binary interactions on stellar evolution. Such interactions are believed to play a key role in the death throes of 1-8 M⊙ stars, as they evolve from the AGB stars into Planetary Nebulae. X-ray surveys of UV-emitting AGB stars show that ∼40% of objects with FUV emission and GALEX FUV/NUV flux ratios ≳0.2 have variable X-ray emission characterized by very high temperatures (Tx∼35-160 MK) and luminosities (Lx∼0.002-0.2L⊙). We hypothesize that such AGB stars have accretion and (accretion-powered) outflows associated with a close binary companion. UV spectroscopy with HST/STIS of our brightest object (Y Gem) shows the presence of infalling and outflowing gas, providing direct kinematic confirmation of this hypothesis. However, the UV-emitting AGB star population is dominated by objects with little or no FUV emission, and we do not know whether the UV emission from these is intrinsic to the AGB star or extrinsic (i.e., due to binarity). Here we present the first results from a large grid of simple chromospheric models to help discriminate between the intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms of UV emission for AGB stars.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
We present the results of a study of coronal and photospheric abundances in τ Bootis, a middle-aged solar analogue, well known for the presence of a close-in Jovian mass planet. We employ the results of this study, based on high-resolution optical and X-ray spectra, to address the issue of abundance stratification vs. First Ionization Potential (FIP) in the outer stellar atmospheres of solar-type stars with and without planets.
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