Thousands of exoplanets are known to orbit nearby stars and small rocky planets are common. Now, observations of exoplanet atmospheres looking for water vapor or gases that might signify the existence of life put the ambitious goal of identifying a habitable or inhabited exoplanet within reach. The field has accelerated with the realization that upcoming telescopes—including the James Webb Space Telescope, large ground-based telescopes now under construction (such as the Giant Magellan Telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory), and potential future space-based observatories—offer distinct opportunities for observing the atmospheres of small exoplanets. Dr. Seager will discuss what it will take to identify or infer using the telescopes available to us that a planet is habitable or inhabited.
Dr. Sara Seager: Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT