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Recently we were able to retrieve the Earth's transmission spectrum through lunar eclipse observations. This spectrum showed that the depth of most molecular species was stronger than models had anticipated. The presence of other atmospheric signatures, such as atmospheric dimers, were also present in the spectrum. We have been developing a radiative transfer code able to reproduce the Earth's transmission spectra at different depths into the penumbra and umbra, and taking into account transmission, refraction, and multiple scattering. Here we discuss the results to date and the work ahead.
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 new photometric and astrometric data available for S Ori 70 and 73, the two T-type planetary-mass member candidates in the σ Orionis cluster (~3 ± 2 Myr, d~360 pc). S Ori 70 (J ~ 19.9 mag) has a spectral type of T5.5 ± 1.0 measured from published near-infrared spectra, while no spectroscopic data are available for S Ori 73 (J ~ 21 mag). We estimate the spectral type of S Ori 73 by using J, H, and CH4off (λc=1.575 μm, Δλ=0.112 μm) photometry and comparing the H-CH4off index of S Ori 73 with the colors of field stars and brown dwarfs of spectral types in the range F to late T. The locations of S Ori 70 and 73 in the J-H vs H-CH4off color-color diagram are consistent with spectral types T8 ± 1 and T4 ± 1, respectively. Proper motion measurements of the two sources are larger than the motion of the central σ Ori star, making their cluster membership somehow uncertain.
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