In the hunt for exoplanets, scientists in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) are breaking boundaries between disciplines, integrating the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and the geosciences to drive innovations in techniques and technology—with the tantalizing prospect of detecting life beyond Earth.
How do planets form and evolve? What role do atmospheres play in their evolution, and how might this inform us about our own environmental changes? What can exoplanets tell us about our own solar system? Do other Earth-like planets exist? Could they be harboring life?
The innate human desire to understand the origins and natural systems of our own world and our place in the universe fuels the questions which our planetary scientists seek to answer—watch to learn more about the different ways they're tackling the search for other worlds.
This series was made possible by the generous support of the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, in partnership with the Heising-Simons Foundation.
The Hallmark of Discovery
with Sara Seager
Novel research directions drive technological innovation in the search for an Earth twin—and the ultimate discovery of life beyond our own planet. As a professor of planetary sciences in EAPS, Sara Seager is following her curiosity into new areas, from designing new space instrumentation to better detect exoplanet atmospheres to investigating the underlying chemistry of life on Earth.
From TRAPPIST to SPECULOOS
with Julien de Wit
Small telescopes are pushing a paradigm shift in exoplanet discovery and characterization. Julien de Wit, professor of planetary sciences in EAPS, takes a novel approach in the search for life beyond Earth. Instead of bigger is better, he's part of a team pioneering small, cost-effective ground-based telescopes to speed up the pace of surveying the skies, and passing along only the most promising targets for examination by the large ground and space-based telescopes which come with billion-dollar pricetags.
Life, in the Simplest of Terms
with Clara Sousa-Silva
Searching for signatures of distant life, one molecule at a time. Clara Sousa-Silva, 51 Pegasi b Research Scientist in EAPS, explains how researchers use spectroscopy and fundamentals of atmospheric chemistry to detect possible life on planets orbiting faraway stars.
Seeing Through Stardust
with Tajana Schneiderman
Observing Earth-like planets with next-generation telescopes—through the haze of asteroids and dust. EAPS graduate student Tajana Schneiderman is working on understanding how tiny particles of dust are composed and distributed in our own solar system and beyond, in order to improve our ability to directly visualize small planets orbiting distant sun-like stars.
with Jason Dittman
Bringing faraway worlds into focus with advances in space instrumentation. Jason Dittman, 51 Pegasi b Doctoral Fellow in EAPS, discusses how next-generation telescopes and innovative detection algorithms are accelerating the pace of discovery, allowing us to peer farther, and more clearly, into neighboring star systems than ever before.
Challenging the Theories
with Ian Wong
The field of exoplanetary research continues to make strange and surprising discoveries with breakthroughs in detection and machine learning. Meet Ian Wong, 51 Pegasi b Doctoral Fellow in EAPS.
Header image: Illustration of what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system might look like from a vantage point near planet TRAPPIST-1f (at right). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Photo Credit: Disease Biophysics Group, Harvard University