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Panel Reports—New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
A census of M-dwarfs out to 50 pc, and stellar astrophysical studies of these stars to understand their mass, radius, metallicity, distance, and if possible age; and
Detailed study of the atmospheric activity of M-dwarfs, to understand the limitations that such variability will impose on searches for planetary companions.
The community should also undertake intensive studies to determine the best observing practices for the study of such objects with JWST, and to determine if similar studies can be pursued with large ground-based telescopes. Accurate estimates of the likely signal-to-noise ratios from JWST (e.g., see Figure 4.20) will be crucial as preparations for the interpretation of such data are made. In conjunction with this work, theoretical expertise in the following areas needs to be fostered:
Modeling, in collaboration with the geophysics community, of the physical structures of Earth-size and super-Earth exoplanets with a range of composition, and an emphasis on the interpretation of anticipated data. Such studies may require laboratory investigations into the equations of state of materials that could be significant components in super-Earths.
Modeling the atmospheres of habitable Earths and super-Earths. Such studies will include photochemistry and cloud modeling and will require the development of detailed molecular databases.
These studies will likely be interdisciplinary, requiring expertise at the interface of astronomy, planetary science, and biology.
JWST is currently planned for launch in 2014, and it will have a finite lifetime. Because the spectroscopic studies envisioned here will likely extend over several years, it is crucial that the target planets be identified prior to or soon after the launch of the observatory. There is considerable expertise in the exoplanet community with respect to what needs be accomplished to extend the current radial-velocity and transit-survey precision to a sufficient number of M-dwarfs stars to enable this very exciting path toward detecting the first habitable worlds and undertaking a spectroscopic study of its atmosphere to search for biomarkers.
Conclusions: Habitable Planets Around M-Dwarfs
Table 4.6 summarizes the panel’s conclusions on activities to address its selected general area with unusual discovery potential.