Direct imaging in reflected light: Characterization of older, temperate exoplanets with 30-m telescopes

Étienne Artigau, Rebecca A. Bernstein, Timothy Brandt, Jeffrey Chilcote, Laird Close, Ian Crossfield, Jacques Robert Delorme, Courtney Dressing, Michael P. Fitzgerald, Jonathan Fortney, Andrew Howard, Richard Frazin, Nemanja Jovanovic, Quinn Konopacky, Julien Lozi, Jared R. Males, Christian Marois, Benjamin A. Mazin, Max A. Millar-Blanchaer, Katie M. MorzinskiLewis Roberts, Eugene Serabyn, Gautam Vasisht, J. Kent Wallace, Ji Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the past three decades instruments on the ground and in space have discovered thousands of planets orbiting nearby stars. These observations have given rise to an astonishingly detailed picture of the demographics of short-period planets (P < 10 days), but are incomplete at longer periods where both the sensitivity of transit surveys and radial velocity signals plummet. Even more glaring is that the spectra of planets discovered with these indirect methods are often inaccessible (most RV and all microlensing detections) or only available for a small subclass of transiting planets. Direct detection, also known as direct imaging, is a method for discovering and characterizing the atmospheres of planets at intermediate and wide separations. It is the only means of obtaining spectra of non-transiting exoplanets. Today, only a handful of exoplanets have been directly imaged, and these represent a rare class of young, self-luminous super-Jupiters orbiting tens to hundreds of AU from their host stars. Characterizing the atmospheres of planets in the < 5 AU regime, where RV surveys have revealed an abundance of other worlds, requires a 30-m-class aperture in combination with an advanced adaptive optics system, coronagraph, and suite of spectrometers and imagers – this concept underlies planned instruments for both TMT (the Planetary Systems Imager, or PSI) and the GMT (GMagAO-X). These instruments could provide astrometry, photometry, and spectroscopy of an unprecedented sample of rocky planets, ice giants, and gas giants. For the first time habitable zone exoplanets will become accessible to direct imaging, and these instruments have the potential to detect and characterize the innermost regions of nearby M-dwarf planetary systems in reflected light. High-resolution spectroscopy will not only illuminate the physics and chemistry of exo-atmospheres, but may also probe rocky, temperate worlds for signs of life in the form of atmospheric biomarkers (combinations of water, oxygen and other molecular species). By completing the census of non-transiting worlds at a range of separations from their host stars, these instruments will provide the final pieces to the puzzle of planetary demographics. This whitepaper explores the science goals of direct imaging on 30-m telescopes and the technology development needed to achieve them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Aug 29 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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