Characterizing Potentially Habitable Exoplanets
When: March 28, 2016 1PM PDT
In the coming decades, the search for life outside our Solar System will be undertaken using astronomical observations of extrasolar terrestrial planets. To support this endeavor, the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) team uses an interdisciplinary suite of computer models, coupled with input from observations, field data and laboratory work, to answer a single scientific question: How do we recognize whether an exoplanet can or does support life? Addressing this question drives three principal areas of research: an exploration of star, planet and planetary system interactions that affect planetary habitability, an improved understanding of how life can modify a planet’s environment on a global scale, and the identification of key signs of habitability and life to be sought in exoplanet observations. This research supports future NASA exoplanet missions by providing the scientific foundation for selection of the most promising planetary targets for detailed observation, and determining the photometric and spectroscopic measurements that will provide the most robust indication of habitability or the presence of life.
In this presentation we will give an overview of VPL’s progress to date in these three areas, and highlight significant research results. These include a new framework for exoplanet target selection, methods to detect oceans on distant worlds, star-planet-planetary system interactions and their impact on planetary habitability, potential signs of life from alternative biospheres, the identification of false positives for life generated by the planetary environment, and future prospects for the characterization of potentially habitable exoplanets with JWST and beyond.