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NASA’s Pandora SmallSat Mission: Multiwavelength Characterization of Exoplanets and their Host Stars

Presentation #503.05 in the session The Future.

Published onApr 03, 2024
NASA’s Pandora SmallSat Mission: Multiwavelength Characterization of Exoplanets and their Host Stars

The Pandora SmallSat is a NASA flight project designed to study the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets via transmission spectroscopy. This technique provides one of the best opportunities to identify the makeup of planetary atmospheres in the coming decade, and it is a key driver of the HST and JWST science portfolio as well. The presence of star spots, however, has been shown to contaminate the exoplanet atmosphere spectra obtained with high-precision transmission spectroscopy measurements. Recent JWST observations of the exoplanets GJ 486 b and TRAPPIST-1 b have especially highlighted the ambiguity that arises when attempting to distinguish potential water absorption signatures in the exoplanet atmosphere from the presence of water in the host star. Pandora will address the problem of stellar contamination by collecting long-duration photometric observations with a visible-light channel and simultaneous spectra with a near-IR channel. These simultaneous multiwavelength observations will constrain star spot covering fractions of exoplanet host stars, enabling star and planet signals to be disentangled in transmission spectra to then reliably determine exoplanet atmosphere compositions. Pandora will observe at least 20 exoplanets with sizes ranging from Earth-size to Jupiter-size and host stars spanning K and M spectral types. Pandora was selected in early 2021 as part of NASA’s Astrophysics Pioneers Program and is a partnership with NASA and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Pandora is expected to launch into a Sun-Synch orbit in 2025 and will have a prime mission of one year. We will provide an update on the mission status and present an overview of the science goals, target selection, observing strategy, and synergies with other ground and space-based facilities.

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