Exoplanets

For millenia, people have wondered whether other stars have planets, and whether those planets might harbor life. Within the last few decades, it has become possible to make progress on these timeless questions. Exoplanetary science --- the study of planets around other stars --- is one of the newest and most rapidly growing branches of astrophysics.

The MIT exoplanet community takes a comprehensive approach, by developing new space missions, pursuing ground-based observations, and advancing the theory of exoplanets. A particular focus is the study of transiting planets: those that eclipse their parent stars. Professor Joshua Winn's group studies orbital dynamics and planet formation with creative new observations using Magellan and other telescopes. Professor Sara Seager pioneered the theory of exoplanet atmospheres and leads several innovative space missions to find and study Earth-like planets.  Winn and Seager are both part of the ongoing NASA Kepler mission. Dr. George Ricker is Principal Investigator of TESS, a proposed NASA mission to find transiting planets around the nearest and brightest stars in the sky. Professor Kerri Cahoy (Aero/Astro) develops new technologies for direct imaging of exoplanetary systems. Professor Nevin Weinberg studies the theory of tidal interactions between planets and stars. Biweekly meetings bring together our group of students, postdocs, faculty and research scientists who share a common interest in exploring other worlds.

An artists' conception of the TESS spacecraft, a proposed NASA mission; along with a system of transiting exoplanets.