APL Colloquium

May 10, 2019

Colloquium Topic: Prospects for Characterizing Terrestrial Exoplanets with the James Webb Space Telescope

One of the most exciting and interdisciplinary frontiers in exoplanet science is the search for habitable planets and life beyond the solar system.   Recently discovered planets, especially Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby M dwarfs, will provide intriguing near-term targets for the James Webb Space Telescope.   The planetary characteristics that we should search for, and the extent to which JWST can detect signs of habitability and life is an exciting area of current research for astrobiologists.  In this talk I will present simulated M dwarf planetary environments, spectra and observations generated by NASA’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory team, and discuss how they might inform optimal use of JWST for characterizing terrestrial habitable zone planets.

Colloquium Speaker: Victoria Meadows

Dr. Victoria Meadows is a Professor with the Astronomy Department and Director of the Astrobiology Program at the University of Washington. She is also the Principal Investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory Lead Team. She has a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of New South Wales, and a Ph.D. in Physics from the Astrophysics Department of the University of Sydney. 

Dr. Meadows’ primary research interests are in the challenging area of using modeling and observations to determine how to recognize whether a distant extrasolar planet is able to harbor life. Her NAI Virtual Planetary Laboratory team develops innovative computer models that can be used to understand the terrestrial planet formation process, test planetary dynamical stability and orbital evolution, and simulate the environment and spectra of present day and early Earth, other Solar System planets, and plausible extrasolar terrestrial environments. This research group can assess the stability and habitability of newly discovered planetary systems and use their models to produce simulated data for extrasolar planet environments, to assist the design and development of future NASA planet detection and characterization missions. 

In addition to her astrobiology research, Dr. Meadows remains a planetary astronomer, and her research interests also encompass remote-sensing observations and radiative transfer modeling of the lower atmosphere and clouds of Venus, the variable Earth, spectra of Titan and Neptune’s atmospheres, and the impacts of Comet SL-9 with Jupiter.