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Lauren Weiss

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Research Interests

I measure the masses and orbital properties of exoplanets using the Keck telescope at Maunakea, Hawai’i, with special focus on the transition between rocky and gaseous planets.  Most recently, I discovered that planets smaller than 1.5 times the radius of Earth are likely rocky, whereas planets larger than 1.5 times the radius of Earth are enveloped in a thick layer of gas.

For my dissertation, I am studying stars that have multiple planets.  I am looking for undiscovered planets in multi-planet systems and measuring their masses and orbital properties. By finding new planets and refining our understanding of planetary system architectures, I hope to bring new insight to the physical processes that form and shape planetary systems, including our own solar system.

One of my major efforts for my thesis has been to automate the Automated Planet Finder (APF) with my colleagues at Berkeley.  Situated at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, CA, the APF is a telescope that studies the nearest and brightest stars every night in order to find small, rocky planets around those stars.  Around the coolest stars, we hope to find rocky planets at temperatures amenable to liquid water.  These planets will be ideal places to search for signs of life.

I am leading a novel project to search for biosignatures in our solar system.  I am partnering with LuminAR Technologies to build a custom lidar hyperspectral camera that we will fly to various solar system bodies to search for signs of organic chemistry and other biosignatures.  The lightweight, compact design of the lidar hyperspectral camera, coupled with its ability to take 4-D images (3 spatial dimensions plus 10,000 spectral channels) makes it the ideal tool for remote sensing.  I am especially interested in flying the lidar hyperspectral camera through the liquid water plume of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.


Personal Interests

I am also a science writer.  You can see my portfolio here.

 


Biography

I am the Ken & Gloria Levy Graduate Student Fellow at UC Berkeley.  I work with Geoff Marcy to find and characterize planets around stars other than the sun.  Our goal is to determine the compositions of small planets and to identify which planets are rocky. 


Projects

Berkeley Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

At Berkeley we are bridging three techniques for discovering and characterizing extrasolar planets:  Transit, Doppler, and Direct Imaging.

NExSS is a cross-divisional initiative from NASA to create a research coordination network (RCN) with an emphasis on studying extrasolar planets and the potential for habitability.  An RCN is a virtual structure to support groups of investigators to communication and coordinate research and educational activity.  At Berkeley our contributions are the observations of extrasolar planets via direct imaging, the transit technique, and Doppler spectroscopy, plus the theoretical study of planet formation and subsequent evolution.

More about Berkeley Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

Automated Planet Finder

The solar spectrum viewed through the APF and Levy Spectrometer.

The Automated Planet Finder (APF) is a robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope stationed at Lick Observatory designed to assist with the search for extrasolar planets. The APF operates by targeting preprogrammed stars and observing them nightly over the course of several months in efforts to detect stellar motion and locate habitable planets.

More about Automated Planet Finder