June 5th, 2013: Protoplanetary Disks and Exoplanetary Atmospheres: Hubble and Beyond

The composition and spatial distribution of molecular gas in the inner few AU of young (< 10 Myr) cirmcumstellar disks are important components to our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems. Following the growth of planetary systems, the energetic radiation environment plays a critical role in atmospheric heating and chemistry in these worlds. In the first part of the talk, I will present recent results on protoplanetary disks and the radiation environment in exoplanetary systems, using data from the new and refurbished spectrographs aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. We have completed the first ultraviolet spectroscopic survey of the inner molecular disks around these stars, characterizing the spatial distribution of H2 and CO at planet-forming radii (a < 10 AU), the inner molecular regions of transitional disks, and the Lyman-alpha radiation environment. I will also describe first results from a spectrocopic survey of M-dwarf exoplanet host stars. This work highlights the ubiquity of chromospheric time-variability and the importance of strong Lyman-alpha radiation to planets in the habitable zones of these systems. In the second part of the talk, I will describe current and future UV/visible space instrumentation being developed by the ultraviolet astrophysics group at the University of Colorado. We are actively involved in the development and flight-testing of next-generation optical coatings, detector systems, and grating in support of future NASA Explorer-class and flagship missions. Many of the graduate students are involved in all phases of a space-flight mission: from instrument development and mission planning to launch and data acquisition to analysis and publication of the results.

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