Nov 18 Lecture – How to Find a Habitable Planet

Science at Cal Lecture Series

How to Find a Habitable Planet

with Courtney Dressing 

Saturday November 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM
100  Genetics & Plant Biology, UC Berkeley

Several decades of ground- and space-based investigations have revealed that our galaxy is teeming with planetary systems and that Earth-sized planets are common. Courtney will review our understanding of small planets and then chart a path towards the detection and characterization of habitable planets orbiting nearby stars.

Data from the NASA Kepler mission can be used to estimate the frequency of potentially habitable planets orbiting “red dwarfs,” low-mass stars that comprise 75% of the stars in the galaxy. Red dwarfs are significantly smaller and cooler than stars like the Sun and therefore have much closer habitable zones. K2, the second career of the Kepler spacecraft, is able to observe and characterize planets orbiting brighter red dwarfs.

The upcoming NASA TESS mission will spur another exoplanet revolution by detecting hundreds of small planets orbiting bright stars. These planets will be ideal targets for follow-up mass measurement using the “Doppler Wobble” technique and detailed atmospheric characterization, setting the stage for the next phase of exoplanet exploration: the quest for biosignatures in the atmospheres of strange new worlds.

Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of 2013 April 18 Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets.

Image NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Mark Khoury

Courtney Dressing

Courtney Dressing is an observational astronomer focused on detecting and characterizing planetary systems. She uses telescopes on the ground and in space to search for planets, probe their atmospheres, measure their masses, and constrain their bulk compositions. She is curious about planet formation and evolution, the frequency of planetary systems in the Galaxy, and the prospects for detecting life on planets outside of our Solar System. Courtney previously obtained a bachelor’s degree in Astrophysical Sciences from Princeton University, earned a Ph.D. and A.M. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Harvard University, and completed a NASA Sagan Fellowship at Caltech. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Astronomy Department at UC Berkeley. 


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