Institute for Planets and Life

Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University

Areas of Research

Astrophysics

  • Formation and early evolution of planetary systems, including star formation, the properties and astrophysics of protoplanetary disks, debris disks and planetesimal collisions.
  • Effects of stellar behavior on long-term planet habitability
  • Exoplanets and their atmospheres: programs to search for and characterize exoplanets with different techniques, including planetary transit and eclipse observations, radial velocity and interferometric planet searches, high-contrast imaging.
  • Search for planets around white dwarfs; formation and potential habitability of planets around white dwarfs.

Geoscience

  • Planetary atmospheres, including that of Titan, as an analog for the atmosphere of early earth prebiotic conditions, and possible life.
  • Roles of mineral surfaces in prebiotic molecular stabilization, molecular degradation, polymerization reactions, and the origin of life
  • Long-term stability and survivability of the Earth over geological timescales
  • Isotopic records of life through Earth history, including that of the earliest life on earth.

Biological Science

  • Adaptive mechanisms of extremophiles to their environment and to changing environmental conditions
  • Ecosystem level studies of microbial communities from extreme environments to identify mechanisms of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Field sites include the Atacama Desert, Chile, and the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, both extremely dry areas and Earth analogs for Mars environments.
  • Characterization of biosignatures resulting from microbial activity in environments that can he used as proxies for extraterrestrial habitats.