The Carl Sagan Institute performs multidisciplinary research to explore planets and planetary systems: How they form, how they evolve, and whether they can harbor life. Major research thrusts change over time, at present, they are:

– to model atmospheric spectral signatures (the light fingerprint of a planet or moon), including biosignatures of known and hypothetical planets to explore whether or not they could be habitable. We focus on planets and moons orbiting stars bright enough for future atmosphere follow-up, especially Mini- to Super-Earths (rocky terrestrial planets of 0.5-10 Earth masses) orbiting in the “Habitable Zones” around their host stars. We include life form that are called “extreme” on our own planet, but could be dominant on other worlds and develop observing strategies and mission concepts for future searches. We explore a wide diversity of planets from Mini-Neptunes to Lava Worlds in our team, and compare their spectral fingerprint to learn about planets and how they work. Prepare for transit observations of planets with the James Webb Space Telescope, to extend our knowledge of planetary composition to our galactic neighborhood. 

– to explore the Solar System beyond Mars to understand how giant planets and their moons form and evolve, to search for habitable environments on and within moons (like Enceladus, Europa and Titan), and to examine the farthest bodies in the solar system for clues to the early history of the solar system. 

– to design and demonstrate next-generation spacecraft architectures in orbit. To look at new approaches to space exploration, including technologies that may someday enable robotic missions to another solar system, cube sats and robotic eels.

– to use Earth and Solar System input of geophysical fluid dynamics and thermal evolution of solid planets and the tectonic, glacial and volcanic features that shape their surfaces to model and study a wide range of possible planets and moons inside and outside our own Solar System.


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