Kevin Stevenson (Chicago)
Planet-finding surveys have revealed thousands of confirmed exoplanets and candidates awaiting verification. Many of these objects were discovered indirectly using the transit technique, which is a powerful tool that has transformed our understanding of planetary system architecture. Furthermore, this technique has provided extraordinary insights into some of these planets’ atmospheric compositions and thermal structures, thus revealing unexpected discoveries and altering our perspective of these worlds. One of the most outstanding challenges in exoplanet characterization is understanding the prevalence of obscuring clouds and hazes in their atmospheres. The ability to predict the presence of clouds/hazes a priori is an important goal when faced with limited telescope resources and advancements in atmospheric characterization that rely on the detection of spectroscopic features. I will discuss current efforts to forecast the presence of obscuring clouds as well as highlight the latest results in atmospheric characterization. I will then finish by examining the need for an exoplanet Early Release Science program with the James Webb Space Telescope.