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Lyman-α radiation dominates the ultraviolet spectra of G, K, and M stars and is a major photodissociation source for H2O, CO2, and CH4 in the upper atmospheres of exoplanets. We obtain intrinsic Lyman-α line fluxes for late-type stars by correcting for interstellar absorption or by scaling from other spectroscopic observables. When stars flare, all emission lines brighten by large factors as shown by HST spectra. We describe photochemical models of the atmosphere of the mini-Neptune GJ 436b (Miguel et al. 2015) that show the effects of flaring Lyman-α fluxes on atmospheric chemical abundances.
Spurred by the recent large number of radial velocity detections and the discovery of several transiting system and among those two planets, that are consistent with rocky composition, the study of planets orbiting nearby stars has now entered an era of characterizing massive terrestrial planets (aka super-Earths). One prominent question is, if such planets could be habitats. Here we focuss on one particular planet Gl581d. For Earth-like assumptions, we investigate the minimal atmospheric conditions for Gl581d to be potentially habitable at its current position, and if habitability could be remotely detected in its spectra. The model we present here only represents one possible nature an Earth-like composition - of a planet like Gl581d in a wide parameter space. Future observations of atmospheric features of such super-Earths can be used to examine if our concept of habitability and its dependence on the carbonate-silicate cycle is correct, and also assess whether Gl581d is indeed the first detected habitable super-Earth. We will need spectroscopic measurements to probe the atmosphere of such planets to break the degeneracy of mass and radius measurements and characterize a planetary environment.
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.
The search for life on extrasolar planets is based on the assumption that one can screen extrasolar planets for habitability spectroscopically. The first space born instruments able to detect as well as characterize extrasolar planets, Darwin and terrestrial planet finder (TPF-I and TPF-C) are scheduled to launch before the end of the next decade. The composition of the planetary surface, atmosphere, and its temperature-pressure profile influence a detectable spectroscopic signal considerably. For future space-based missions it will be crucial to know this influence to interpret the observed signals and detect signatures of life in remotely observed atmospheres. We give an overview of biomarkers in the visible and IR range, corresponding to the TPF-C and TPF-I/DARWIN concepts, respectively. We also give an overview of the evolution of biomarkers over time and its implication for the search for life on extrasolar Earth-like planets. We show that atmospheric features on Earth can provide clues of biological activities for at least 2 billion years.
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