Astronomers have spotted many Earth-like worlds around other stars, but are these exoplanets really similar to our home, and could they support life? The CLEVER Planets project, including UC Davis professor Sarah Stewart, has received a $7.7 million NASA grant to explore how rocky planets like Earth acquire, sustain, and nurture the chemical conditions necessary for life.
The scientists will examine the stages from rocky planets’ formation to the evolution of organic material that makes up life. The researchers plan to investigate the origin and cycles of life-essential elements such carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus in young rocky planets. The results will help identify which planets are most likely to be habitable and when in their evolutionary history such conditions of habitability are most likely.
The team members bring extensive expertise in astrophysics, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, fluid and atmospheric dynamics, and organic chemistry. Led by Rice University professor Rajdeep Dasgupta, the group also includes scientists from UC Davis, NASA Johnson Space Center, UCLA and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Stewart’s research focuses on the formation and evolution of planetary bodies through shock wave experiments to measure material properties and numerical simulations of planetary processes.
The team was selected from a competition in response to the NASA Astrobiology Institute Cycle 8 Cooperative Agreement, and funding was awarded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate as part of the agency’s interdisciplinary NExSS Project. NExSS is 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.
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Adapted by content strategist Becky Oskin, UC Davis College of Letters and Sciences, from a Rice University press release.