The study of exoplanets – planets around other stars – is a relatively new field. The discovery of the first exoplanet around a star like our sun was made in 1995. Since the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope six years ago, more than 1,000 exoplanets have been found, with thousands of additional candidates waiting to be confirmed. Scientists are developing ways to confirm the habitability of these worlds and search for biosignatures, or signs of life.
The Exoplanets Research program conducts research to advance our knowledge and understanding of exoplanetary systems. Its objectives are the detection and characterization of exoplanets (including their surfaces, interiors, and atmospheres) and exoplanetary systems, including the determination of their compositions, dynamics, energetics, and chemical behaviors. This program element is shared between NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) and the Astrophysics Division.
The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS)
In 2015, NASA’s Astrobiology Program within the PSD formed NExSS, a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context – as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur and which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.