Exploring the Mysterious Origins of Super-Earths and Mini-Neptunes

Apr 04, 2019 - 11:00 am to 12:00 pm

Campus, PAB 102/103

Heather Knutson (Caltech)

Nearly a decade has passed since the discovery that planets with sizes intermediate between that of the Earth and Neptune (“super-Earths” or “mini-Neptunes”, depending on their densities) dominate the observed population of close-in exoplanets. These planets have no solar system analogue, yet 30% of Sun-like stars appear to have at least one (and often more) interior to Mercury’s orbit.  Did these planets form in situ, or did they migrate inward from a more distant formation location?  Either way, the implications for our understanding of planet formation are bound to be significant.  In my talk I will describe current efforts to address this question by characterizing the bulk densities and compositions of these planets and searching for outer gas giant companions.