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Penn State faculty led two teams in NASA’s new Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

Penn State faculty led two teams in NASA’s new Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

A new NASA initiative is embracing a team approach to the quest for life on planets around other stars.  Termed “NExSS”, (Nexus for Exoplanet System Science), this virtual institute will benefit from the expertise of several dozen scientists across the NASA science community in an effort to find clues to life on faraway worlds.  In bringing together the “best and brightest”, the NExSS team hopes to better understand the various components of an exoplanet, as well as how the parent stars and neighbor planets interact to support life.

NExSS will include team members from 10 different universities, three NASA centers, and two research institutes. These teams, including two teams led by faculty at Penn State, were selected from proposals from across NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

One of the two NExSS teams at Penn State University is led by Professor Eric Ford. This team will further our understanding into planetary formation by investigating the bulk properties of small transiting planets and implications for their formation.  Ford’s team will apply advanced statistical models to observations of planets by NASA’s Kepler mission to infer the relationships between the orbit, radius, mass, and composition of small planets, focusing on planetary systems with multiple, closely-spaced planets.

Another of the two NExSS teams at Penn State University, with Jason Wright as its principal investigator, will study the atmospheres of giant planets that are transiting hot Jupiters. The team will use a novel technique (diffuser-assisted photometry) to enable high-precision measurements from ground-based observatories.  This research aims to enable more detailed characterization of the temperatures, pressures, composition, and variability of exoplanet atmospheres, and to aid the characterization of smaller planets with the future generation of extremely large telescopes.

Read more at the Penn State press release and the NASA press release.

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