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May 8 Colloquium

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Sarah Ballard, University of Washington

Directions to the Nearest Alien Earth-like Planet: Walk from Here to Knight Library

Host: Jim Brau

Abstract: The landscape of exoplanet science has been dramatically reshaped since the launch of NASA’s Kepler mission in 2009. While the mission’s primary science driver was to uncover the frequency of Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars, in fact the vast majority of rocky planets in their stellar habitable zones reside in very different environments. M dwarf stars, half the mass of the Sun and smaller, host most of the galaxy’s terrestrial worlds. The small stature of these stars, the most prolific type in the universe, render exoplanet detection and characterization easier for upcoming missions. However, they furnish very different conditions for life than have nourished it on Earth. I’ll summarize the key findings of what Kepler has revealed about planet occurrence, and how it informs our search for signatures of life on other planets.