Lisa Kaltenegger

Lisa Kaltenegger

Associate Professor of Astronomy

Lisa Kaltenegger is an Associate Professor and Director of the Exoplanet Institute for Pale Blue Dots at Cornell University, Ithaca. She also leads a research group for extrasolar planet characterisation at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. She investigates exoplanets (planets found outside our solar system) by modelling them and processing the data to see which planets could harbour life. Featured in Time Magazine Guide to 2014 and a recipient of the Christian-Doppler Prize 2013, the Heinz-Maier Leibnitz Prize in Physics 2012, American Innovator in 2007 among others, she is an expert on atmospheres and rocky planets and part of several ongoing and upcoming NASA missions to search for a second Earth.

BREAKING THE WALL TO THOUSANDS OF NEW WORLDS. How Exoplanet Research is Scouting for Earth 2.0

More than 2,000 years ago, the question whether we are alone in the universe was first asked. Today we live in a time when for the first time in history, we have the tools to answer it. Lisa Kaltenegger’s multi-award-winning research focuses on newly discovered planets outside our solar system, so-called exoplanets, and scouts them for biosignatures – the preconditions and indications of life. Her models combine data from remote planets with geographical and atmospheric data from Earth to determine how our planet would have looked billions of years ago using a technique called spectral analysis, which generates a spectral fingerprint of light for a planet. Kaltenegger was recently awarded 1 million dollars from the Simons Foundation which allowed her to start her own exoplanet research centre – the Institute for Pale Blue Dots – at Cornell University. Her team is using advanced computer models to map the light spectrum of more than 100 alien worlds that could potentially harbour different kinds of life forms. Besides inspiring a new era of astronomic discovery, this work could also “give us the opportunity to find out something about the evolution of the Earth, and perhaps even give a first glimpse into our future”.