Muirhead Group Wins NASA XRP Grant

At the 225th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, WA, I received some very exciting news from NASA’s Program Officer for the Exoplanet Research Program (“XRP”): We won a grant!  Back in March of 2014, I teamed up with Dr. Jon Swift of The Thacher School in Ojai, CA and Prof. John Johnson at Harvard University, to propose an ambitious observing campaign on low-mass eclipsing binary stars.  Eclipsing binaries are fantastic laboratories for studying fundamental properties of stars: masses, radii, luminosities and how these properties are affected by metallicity, rotation and surface activity.

Astronomers have been observing low-mass eclipsing binaries for nearly a century, yet we still don’t understand how rotation and activity affect their masses and radii.  This will become increasingly important when NASA’s future TESS and JWST observatories are launched into space.  TESS is expected to discover hundreds of planets orbiting low-mass stars, and we can use JWST to study their atmospheres in detail.  However, we will only be able to use JWST on a few exoplanets, so it is imperative we know as much as possible about the planet hosting stars. 

With the awarding of this NASA XRP grant, we will use the Discovery Channel Telescope and the Perkins Telescope at Lowell Observatory to measure precise luminosities of the individual components of low-mass eclipsing binary stars, which have never been measured empirically despite the near century of literature!  Stay tuned for results from this program!

-Phil Muirhead