Probing Planetary Formation and Evolution: Transiting Planets and Occulting Disks
Rodriguez, Joseph Enrique, Jr.
The circumstellar environments of young stellar objects (YSOs) involve complex dynamical interactions between dust and gas that directly influence the formation of planets. However, our understanding of the evolution from the material in the circumstellar disk to the thousands of planetary systems discovered to date, is limited. One means to better constrain the size, mass, and composition of this planet-forming material is to observe a YSO being eclipsed by its circumstellar disk. Through this dissertation project, we are discovering and characterizing both disk eclipsing systems and exoplanets using the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) project. KELT is a photometric survey for transiting planets orbiting bright stars (8 < V < 11); such bright planet host targets are well-suited for atmospheric characterization of the planets. KELT has discovered 15 planets transiting stars brighter than V ~11 to date. I will present some of the recently discovered planets from the survey and discuss their potential to advance our understanding of planetary atmospheres. In addition, KELT provides photometric monitoring of ~3 million stars, presenting the opportunity to perform multi-year studies of stellar variability generally and rare disk occultations specifically. Using time-series photometry from KELT we are conducting the Disk Eclipse Search with KELT (DESK) survey to look for disk eclipsing events, specifically in young stellar associations. To date, the survey has discovered and analyzed four previously unknown large dimming events around the stars RW Aurigae, V409 Tau, AA Tau, and TYC 2505-672-1, the latter now representing the longest-period eclipsing object known (period ~ 69 years). The results from this project on planet atmosphere characterization and protoplanetary disk structure and composition, will provide a framework to search for these kinds of systems in future surveys such as LSST.