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Life Beyond Earth & Astrobiology


The Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds works closely with the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center to promote research related to understanding the origins of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere in the solar system and the universe.

Areas of Specialty

  • Search for habitable planets (Mahadevan, Wright, Ford)
  • Modeling climate on exoplanets (Kasting, Kopparapu, Williams)
  • Delivery of Volatiles to Rocky Planets (Sigurdsson, Ford)
  • Search for Extraterestrial Intelligence: (Sigurdsson, Wright)
  • Study of the influence of stellar activity on planetary habitability (Bastien, Wolszczan)
  • Characterizing rocky planets via diurnal variability (Ford)
  • Formation of habitable planets (Dawson)

Faculty Contacts

  • Rebekah Dawson studies how conditions during planet formation affect whether low-mass planets form rocky or with thick, blanketing atmospheres that would impact their habitability.
  • Eric Ford contributes to the analysis of planet search observations and theoretical interpretation of exoplanet systems that contain rocky and/or potentially habitable planets.  Ford has also considered how seasonal and diurnal variability of reflected light could be used to increase the scientific return of future space-based observatories built to characterize the surfaces and atmospheres of rocky planets.
  • James Kasting and his students are interested in the search for habitable extrasolar planets and, ultimately, in the search for evidence of life on such planets. They contribute to this search by using climate models to estimate the width of the liquid water habitable zone around different types of stars and by using atmospheric photochemical models to investigate the significance of possible biomarker molecules such as O2 and CH4. 
  • Suvrath Mahadevan is the PI for the Habitable Zone Planet Finder project searching for rocky planets around nearby stars.
  • Steinn Sigurdsson is a leader in the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center.  His research includes planet formation, the transport of volatiles among planets and moons in the solar system and SETI.
  • Darren Williams studies the climates and dynamics of Earth-like planets and moons, both in the Solar System and beyond. He is particularly interested in the dynamical circumstances (e.g., axial spin, orbit shape, impacts) affecting the volatile inventory and habitability of Earth and other solid objects around the Sun.
  • Alex Wolszczan  is interested in characterization of the activity of low-mass stars, especially those orbited by potentially habitable planets.
  • Jason Wright works in the search for technosignatures, or SETI. His projects include waste heat searches, searches for structures in transit, novel radio search strategies, theoretical work, and bibliography.


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