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2012 Annual Science Report

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

Habitability of Extrasolar Planets

Project Summary

We model if and under what conditions some of the recently detected Super-Earths – small, Earth-sized planets that have been discovered in in the classical Habitable Zone Sun-like stars – could be habitable. These models explore the underlying physics of planetary atmospheres and their remotely detectable features.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
2 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The past year brought us, finally, a confirmed transiting small-size planet in the classical Habitable Zone of a Sun-like star – Kepler-22b of 2.4 Earth radius. Kaltenegger and Sasselov contributed the analysis of this planet in terms of its habitability characteristics and location within the habitable zone to the discovery paper by the Kepler team. With new Kepler discoveries of even smaller planets in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars they have continued to work with the Kepler team in characterizing them. In addition the team continued to improve its modeling of the atmospheres of such habitable exoplanets, both in terms of cloud formation and spectral signatures (involving students A. Zsom and S. Rugheimer), and in understanding novel geochemical cycles on water-dominated Super-Earths (involving student A. Levi).

    Lisa Kaltenegger

    Dimitar Sasselov

    Phoebe Cohen
    Unspecified Role

    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 1.2
    Indirect and direct astronomical observations of extrasolar habitable planets.

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere.

    Objective 4.2
    Production of complex life.

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth

    Objective 7.2
    Biosignatures to be sought in nearby planetary systems