Exoplanets and Brown Dwarfs
The Exoplanets Group uses space telescopes to reveal the sizes, temperatures, atmospheric properties, and orbits of many planets and brown dwarfs outside our solar system. We develop new theory and models to interpret and understand those data. We also lead several open-source software projects that provide tools for exoplanet research to the astronomical community.
For instance, we develop theoretical (1D, 2D and 3D) models that simulate the atmospheres of terrestrial exoplanets in the habitable zone, providing interesting targets to current and upcoming space missions for follow-up observations. The focus in this line of work is to address the age-old question: Are we alone? Does life exist in other stellar systems outside of this one? Our interdisciplinary approach (which combines astronomy and atmospheric science with data from other fields, including geology and biology) develops theories to explain the planetary conditions that produce potentially habitable planets, improving our chances of detecting extraterrestrial life. Recent work has included designing improved definitions of the habitable zone, assessing the habitability of ocean worlds and aqua planets, evaluating the effects of atmospheric CO2 condensation on habitability, and determining the respiratory limits of complex lifeforms to elevated levels of atmospheric CO2.