Synopsis: The discovery of thousands of exoplanets in our Galaxy has revolutionised our understanding of planetary systems; however, we still know very little about the planets themselves. Transiting planets, those that periodically eclipse their host stars, play a special role in our understanding of exoplanets. They are the only exoplanets for which we can measure the mass and radius, and therefore obtain the bulk density and composition. They also allow us to characterise their atmospheres in detail. This is necessary to understand the composition and physics of planetary atmospheres as well as their formation and evolution, and ultimately to search for atmospheric constituents in terrestrial planets that may indicate the presence of life, so called 'biomarkers’. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – Hubble’s successor – in (hopefully) 2021 heralds a new era in our understanding of exoplanets and their atmospheres. I will discuss our current understanding of exoplanet atmospheres, and what we will learn with JWST and other next-generation facilities.
Bio: I am a Lecturer and Royal Society University Research Fellow at Queen's University Belfast. I was previously a fellow at the European Southern Observatory in Germany, and a postdoc at the University of Oxford. My work aims to improve our ability to observe the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. Long term I hope to use these techniques to search for so-called 'biomarkers' – signs of life – in exoplanet systems, as well as explore the diversity of planets in our galaxy and improve our understanding of atmospheric physics and planet formation.