How Exoplanet Research is Scouting for Earth 2.0

More than 2000 years ago, the question whether we are alone in the universe was first asked. Today, we live in a time, when for the first time in history, we have the tools to answer it. Lisa Kaltenegger’s multi-awarded research focuses on newly discovered planets outside our solar system, so-called exoplanets, and scouts them for biosignatures – the pre-conditions and indications of life. Her models combine data from remote planets with geographical and atmospheric data from Earth to determine how our planet would have looked billions of years ago using a technique called spectral analysis, which generates a spectral fingerprint of light for a planet. Kaltenegger was recently awarded 1 million dollars from the Simons Foundation which allowed her to start her own exoplanet research centre – the Institute for Pale Blue Dots – at Cornell University, Ithaca. Her team is using advanced computer models to map the light spectrum of more than 100 alien worlds that could potentially harbour different kinds of life forms. Besides inspiring a new era of astronomic discovery, this work could also “give us the opportunity to find out something about the evolution of the Earth, and perhaps even give a first glimpse into our future”.

Lisa Kaltenegger is Professor at Cornell, leader of the Carl Sagan Institute and former DFG Emmy Noether Group Leader at the MPIA, Heidelberg for extrasolar planet characterisation and lecturer at Harvard Astrophysics Department and Research Associate at SAO. Her work focuses on characterizing extrasolar rocky planets, modeling the atmospheric spectral fingerprints of terrestrial planets and specially indicators for life on them, depending on geological cycles, biological environments and age of evolution. She is a Co-Investigator on the MIT NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) node and part of the EC of NASA’s Extrasolar Planet Analysis Group.

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