UCSC professor joins NASA team searching for habitable planets





Excerpt from contracostatimes.com
 


SANTA CRUZ -- The search for planets that can support life is taking place at UC Santa Cruz, in Jonathan Fortney's astronomy and astrophyics lab. 

Fortney, an associate professor, has been named to a 15-member NASA team, the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS). The team will look at how biology interacts with the atmosphere, geology, a planet's interior and its host star, to understand how to find signs of life.
Scientists from 10 universities, three NASA centers and two research institutes were selected for the team.
At UCSC, Fortney will examine how light from a planet's atmosphere can give clues about the atmosphere's temperature and molecular makeup. Today's statistical tools allow scientists to understand what molecules surround brown dwarfs and giant planets, which are brighter and hotter than small planets similar to Earth.
"In the future, when we obtain spectra of Earth-like planets around other stars, we'll want to know if we can see things like methane and oxygen in their atmospheres, and we'll want to quantify the amounts of those different gases," he said.
Each team member will contribute his or her expertise, to solve the eternal question: Are we alone? Heliophysicists will look at how the sun interacts with its orbiting planets. Astrophysicists will study exoplanets, or planets around other stars. Planetary scientists will contribute their knowledge from our solar system.
The team brings together research communities often unaware of work outside their own disciplines. The collaboration will help classify the discoveries of new worlds and understand if they can support life.