Cuatro Ciénegas, Mexico, a living laboratory and a proxy for early Earth, shows living stromatolites in a pristine river system, targets of investigation for the VPL team to better understand microbial evolution and adaptive processes.
VPL modeling results predict that a planet's gravitational interaction with the parent star can create extreme volcanism and vaporize oceans
VPL researchers work to understand the co-evolution of photosynthesis with the planetary environment on planets that orbit stars very different to our Sun.

Welcome to the Virtual Planetary Laboratory

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Virtual Planetary Laboratory's research is driven by a single scientific question: “How would we determine if an extrasolar planet were able to support life or had life on it already?” To answer this, the VPL develops and combines scientific models from many disciplines to constrain habitability for newly discovered worlds, like those found by NASA’s Kepler mission. We explore the evolution and limits of terrestrial planet habitability via a planet’s interaction with its parent star and planetary system environment. We work to identify life’s observable impact on a planetary environment for different metabolisms, planetary compositions, and host stars.  We calculate the likely detectability of these planetary characteristics in photometry and spectra to be returned by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and future mission concepts, such as LUVOIR and HabEx.

To address our key scientific question, we refine and combine existing VPL planetary, astronomical, and ecosystem models to derive a comprehensive, interdisciplinary characterization of a given planetary environment and its likely history. We use observations, laboratory, and fieldwork from the astronomical, Earth observing, planetary and biological sciences as input to these models. Our effort benefits astrobiology and the NAI with a proven, productive, interdisciplinary science team whose research spans the distribution of habitable worlds, the co-evolution of life with its environment, and the recognition of signatures of life on other worlds. Our research personnel provide both key scientific and technical leadership for current and future NASA missions and engage the public in the excitement of NASA's planet detection and characterization efforts.

VPL Headlines

August 12, 2017

Rodrigo Luger earns his PhD!

On August 11, Rodrigo Luger successfully defended his dissertation to earn his Astronomy and Astrobiology Dual-Title PhD. He discussed his work on understanding the evolution of potentially habitable planets around low mass stars and methods to detect and characterize these planets around nearby stars with current and future instrumentation. Many congratulations!  

July 1, 2017

Lupita Tovar featured in UW A&S Newsletter!


June 24, 2017

Interactive VPL Spectral Explorer now Available!


June 16, 2017

Sonny Harman and Natasha Batalha graduate with PhDs! Congratulations!!

June 15, 2017

Welcome to the team: Guadalupe Tovar and Benjamin Hayworth!


June 8, 2017

VPL UW Graduate Students David Fleming and Andrew Lincowski win NASA fellowships


May 22, 2017

Weathering of rocks a poor regulator of global temperatures


May 22, 2017

Reflections on O2 as a Biosignature by Dr. Meadows


May 19, 2017

On the improbability of our existence around our sun


May 8, 2017

Eric Agol wins prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship!


May 5, 2017

Congratulations! Tyler Robinson to become Assistant Professor at NAU!

Tyler Robinson has been offered the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University. He will be building a research group in exoplanets, planetary atmospheres, and astrobiology and will be working with both undergraduate and graduate students at NAU. Additionally, Dr. Robinson will be teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in atmospheric physics, exoplanets, and astrobiology.

April 29, 2017

VPL team has strong presence at AbSciCon 2017

36 VPL team members gave talks and/or presented posters at this year's AbSciCon 2017 that took place April 24-28 in Mesa, AZ. Sessions were recorded and can be watched on the NAI YouTube channel.