Most of the news about exoplanets this past year has revolved around the discovery of “Earth-sized” planets in the “habitable zone” of "red dwarf" stars. This is partly due to the fact that such planets are more easily found, partly because most stars are red dwarfs (cooler and smaller than the Sun), and partly because smaller stars apparently tend to have smaller planets. I’ll talk about these discoveries, give a background on red dwarfs, and concentrate on the current thinking about whether a planet around a red dwarf could, in fact, actually harbor life. This question is still a very active one; 15 years ago most astronomers would have just answered “no”. I’ll explain why, and how our thinking is evolving.
Gibor Basri received his B.S. in Physics from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1979. An award of a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship then brought him to the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the faculty of the Berkeley Astronomy Department in 1982, and became a full professor in 1994. A high resolution spectroscopist, he was an early pioneer and expert in the study of brown dwarfs, as well as star formation and stellar magnetic activity. He has extensively used telescopes at the Lick and Keck Observatories, along with space telescopes. Gibor was a Co-Investigator on NASA's Kepler mission, which has revolutionized our knowledge about exoplanets. In 2007 he also became the founding Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley, and in 2015 he received the Berkeley Citation (campus’ highest honor) upon retiring. He is still very active in faculty activities and research.