UC Berkeley Astronomers Lead New NASA-Funded Search for Habitable Planets

Gemini Planet Imager’s first light image of Beta Pictoris b (to lower right of center), a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. Light from the star is blocked in this image by a mask so it doesn’t interfere with the light of the planet. (Processing by Christian Marois, NRC Canada)

Department of Astronomy faculty member James Graham will lead one of the 16 new projects funded by NASA in efforts to streamline the search for habitable planets. The project is part of the newly announced NExSS (Nexus for Exoplanet System Science) which seeks to bring together "the best and the brightest" to oversee the search. 

The Berkeley "exoplanets unveiled" project, which will work alongside scientists at Stanford, is unique due to it's involvement of the "Gemini Planet Imager, a new instrument for the Gemini Observatory that began its exoplanet survey in November 2014; GPI has already imaged two previously known exo-planets and disks of planetary debris orbiting young stars where planets recently formed. Paul Kalas, an adjunct professor of astronomy and co-PI for the project, noted that the goal of imaging Earth-size planets is still decades away, since direct imaging instruments like GPI would have to be sensitive enough to detect faint starlight reflected off the planet."

Collaborators for this project also include Geoff Marcy (who has discovered more than 100 exo-planets and perfected the Doppler technique used in the project), Bruce Macintosh (who is also a member of the NASA team and Professor of Physics at Stanford), Department of Astronomy faculty member and CIPS Director Eugene Chiang, and grad students Tushar Mittal, Erik Petigura, Lauren Weiss, and Jason Wang.

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TAGS: Eugene Chiang, Lauren Weiss, Erik Petigura, Jason Wang, planets, Paul Kalas, James Graham, NASA, Tushar Mittal, NExSS, Project