University of Washington Astrobiology Program

Spring 2013

UWAB Faculty Member Eric Agol Discovers Smallest Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Yet!

Artist's concept of Kepler-62f. Image Credit: NASA

Last week, NASA’s Kepler space telescope team announced the discovery of three “super-Earth” sized planets in the habitable zone, or the area surrounding a star where liquid water may potentially be found. One of these planets, Kepler-62f, was discovered by UWAB’s very own Eric Agol—an associate professor in the UW astronomy department—with help from postdoctoral researcher, Brian Lee. With its relatively small size, 1.4 times the Earth’s radius, and its position squarely within the habitable zone of its star, Kepler 62f is arguably the most potentially habitable planet yet discovered. The paper documenting the discovery was published on April 18th, 2013 in Science Express, the online version of the journal Science.

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The 2013 ESS Research Gala

UWAB Graduate StudentsOn April 4th and 5th, 2013, the Department of Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) hosted the 4th Annual Research Gala at the University of Washington. The ESS Gala is a research symposium organized by graduate students that provides both undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to present original research to a community of peers, academics, and professionals from industry and government. This year’s event was organized by three Astrobiology students; Kelly Hillbun, Tom Tobin, and Matt Tilley.

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Astrobiology Public Lecture: Save the Date!

Thursday, May 16th, 2013
7:30pm - 120 Kane Hall

Searching For Earth's Twin

Jon Jenkins, Senior Research Scientist at the SETI InstituteDr. Jon Jenkins
SETI Institute
NASA Ames Research Center

On the evening of May 16th, Dr. Jon Jenkins—analysis lead for NASA's Kepler mission— will give a public talk on the latest discoveries made by the planet-finding spacecraft, and the ongoing search for the most Earthlike planet yet. This event will be free and open to the public.

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UWAB @ A Glance

  • UWAB welcomes Peter Driscoll (currently at Yale), who will be joining the VPL Team and the Astrobiology Program on August 1st. Peter is a geophysicist whose research interests include dynamo generation, planetary internal structure, plate tectonics, degassing, and extrasolar planets.
  • Sharon Doty and Darlene Zabowski, of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, have joined the Astrobiology Program as new faculty members! Sharon's research focuses on plant-microbe interactions, bioenergy, and the processes by which plants take up and metabolize organic pollutants. Darlene's research interests include microbially-mediated soil generation and soil colonization in extreme alpine environments.

  • Curious what past UWAB students are up to? We have recently added an Alumni page to the UWAB website.

  • The Astrobiology Colloquium returns this Fall! We'll send out an announcement soon, so stay tuned for details.

  • To help support our upcoming student workshop this Fall, Spring is a great time to give a gift in support of UW Astrobiology! Use the secure, online portal to support UWAB today.


Astrobiology in the News

  • UWAB scientist Rory Barnes was featured in the journal Astrobiology for both his work on exomoon habitability, and the evolution of hypothetical “tidal venuses” .

  • Recent UWAB alumnus David Smith had his paper on life in the stratosphere featured in the Editor's Choice section in Science (4 Jan 2013, p.11).



  • ESS Student Elena Amador won the Dwornik Award for best graduate oral presentation at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The talk focused on her work titled “The Lost City Hydrothermal Field: A Spectroscopic and Astrobiological Martian Analog.

  • UWAB research associate and alumnus Ty Robinson received a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship to work on climate models for habitable, hazy super-Earth planets. He will start this new position with Dr. Mark Marley at NASA Ames at the end of August.

  • Last month, UWAB Graduate Student Osa Igbinosun successfully defended her masters in ESS! She was also selected to participate in the 2013 Caltech Space Challenge.

  • In January, UWAB Graduate Student Eva Stueeken passed her general exam, and also won an NAI scholarship to attend the Astrobiology Grand Tour in Australia this summer.



    Newsletter Editor-In-Chief:

    Nicole Evans
    Program Assistant, UWAB