EAPS postdoc Jason Dittmann of the Seager Group is recognized with the generous support of the Heising-Simons Foundation.
Jason Dittmann, a postdoctoral fellow in the Seager Group, was the recipient of one of the four inaugural 51 Pegasi b Fellowships announced in January by the Heising-Simons Foundation. Named for the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a Sun-like star, the new 51 Pegasi b Fellowships are intended to give exceptional postdoctoral scientists the opportunity to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental research in planetary astronomy.
Dittmann works to refine current observational tools and techniques to better characterize a star’s physical attributes to aid in the detection of any potential exoplanets. He explains, “Our end goal is to arrive at a point where we can start asking fundamental questions about the composition and dynamics of a planet. But understanding these worlds requires that we first understand their host stars.”
His investigations have focused on small, cool stars known as M Dwarfs, which are the most
abundant type in the Milky Way and are often the best targets when searching for habitable exoplanets. Making use of parallax techniques—applying multiple viewpoints to measure distances and collect data—he found that these small stars are similar in composition to our Sun, providing a clue to what makes a star likely to have a planetary companion.
In this fellowship, Dittmann will continue his research into M-class stars as part of the Seager Group’s work on the MIT-led NASA TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission [see page 12, this issue]. Launching in 2018, TESS will survey thousands of the nearest such stars with the goal to discover the closest exoplanets which may be similar to Earth, or Mars, or Venus, and to investigate their atmospheric chemistries—leading to more knowledge of physical, and potentially biological, processes outside of our solar system.
Within weeks of the Heising-Simons Foundation fellowship announcement, Dittmann made news in the journal Nature as lead author on a paper reporting the discovery of a new rocky and temperate exoplanet. The 40 light-year distant super-Earth LHS 1140b now joins Proxima Centauri b and the TRAPPIST planetary candidates at the top of the list of most promising potentially habitable planets scientists have so far identified, and is a prime target for atmospheric study.
Katherine de Kleer, who was recently appointed to the EAPS faculty for 2019, was also a recipient of one of the new 51 Pegasi b Fellowships.
The Heising-Simons Foundation is a family foundation based in Los Altos, California. The foundation works with its many partners to advance sustainable solutions in climate and clean energy, enable groundbreaking research in science, enhance the education of our youngest learners, and support human rights for all people.
Original text source and image credit: Heising-Simons Foundation
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