The ambitious endeavor, dubbed the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), deals with the study of exoplanets – or planets around other stars.
“This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” said Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”
The relatively new field of exoplanets emerged in 1995 with the discovery of the first exoplanet around a star similar to the sun. Since the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope six years ago, more than 1,000 exoplanets have been found, and thousands more candidates are waiting to be confirmed as exoplanets.
The experts of NExSS will study the various components of an exoplanet in the hopes of discovering how these planets interact with neighboring planets and stars to support life.
Researchers will set out to understand how biology interacts with the atmosphere, geology, oceans, and interior of a planet, as well as how these interactions are affected by the host star. NASA said this “system science” approach will help scientists better understand how to look for life on exoplanets.
The team will be comprised of researchers in the fields of Earth science, planetary science, heliophysics and astrophysics. NASA employees will be joined by experts from ten different universities and two research institutes.
In a post on its website announcing the initiative, NASA said: “NExSS will bring together these prominent research communities in an unprecedented collaboration, to share their perspectives, research results, and approaches in the pursuit of one of humanity’s deepest questions: Are we alone?”