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 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 NExSS Research Coordination Network 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.

The VPL team is a member of the NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) which is a 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.  You can learn more about NExSS here  https://nexss.info/about/about-nexss

VPL Headlines

Giada Arney Appointed as Member of the Panel on Venus for the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey!

October 8, 2020

Deputy PI and Task B Co-Lead, Giada Arney, and one of the VPL team’s resident Venus experts, was recently honored by being selected to be a member of the Panel on Venus for the NAS Planetary Scienc

Exoplanet Explorers (ExoExplorers) Science Series

October 6, 2020

Dr. Ravi Kopparapu Featured on Ask and Astrobiologist

September 30, 2020

VPL Scientist Dr. Ravi Kopparapu (NASA GSFC) was recently featured on the Ask an Astrobiologist program!

Giada Arney Highlighted by NASA for Women’s Equality Day

September 1, 2020

Giada Arney works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and as part of the VPL team is the Project Deputy Primary Investigator and Task B (The Earth Through Time) co-lead.

Diana Windemuth Earns Dual-Title PhD in Astronomy & Astrobiology from the University of Washington

August 24, 2020

Diana Windemuth (University of Washington, Advisor: Eric Agol) successfully defended their dissertation for the Dual-Title PhD in Astronomy & Astrobiology on Monday August 17th via Zoom!

Planetary Astrobiology, Edited by Vikki Meadows & Giada Arney, Now Available!

August 22, 2020

"Are we alone in the universe? How did life arise on our planet? How do we search for life beyond Earth? These profound questions excite and intrigue broad cross sections of science and society.

Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra Featured on Ask and Astrobiologist

August 12, 2020

VPL Scientist Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra (BMSIS) was recently featured on the Ask an Astrobiologist program!

Bill Sparks ExoBiology Proposal Selected

July 14, 2020

William Sparks recently had a proposal, titled: “Detecting the Fundamental Chiral Building Blocks of Life”, selected by the NASA Exobiology funding program

Dr. Eddie Schwieterman Featured on Ask and Astrobiologist

June 16, 2020

VPL scientist Dr. Eddie Schwieterman (UCR) was recently featured on the Ask an Astrobiologist program!

Jacob Lustig-Yaeger Earns Dual-Title PhD in Astronomy & Astrobiology from the University of Washington

June 16, 2020

Jacob Lustig-Yaeger (University of Washington, Advisor: Victoria Meadows) successfully defended his dissertation for his Dual-Title PhD in Astronomy & Astrobiology on Wednesday July 15th via Zo

Owen Lehmer Earns Dual-Title PhD in Earth and Space Sciences & Astrobiology from the University of Washington!

June 4, 2020

Owen Lehmer (University of Washington, Advisor: David Catling) successfully defended his dissertation for his Dual-Title PhD in Earth and Space Sciences & Astrobiology on Wednesday June 3rd via

Ocean Circulation May Hold the Key to Finding Life on Exoplanets

May 18, 2020

Dorian Abbot and postdoctoral fellow Stephanie Olson’s recent publication “Oceanographic Considerations for Exoplanet Life Detection” has been receiving some press coverage, including a news story

David Fleming Earns PhD in Astronomy from the University of Washington

April 30, 2020

David Fleming (University of Washington, Advisor: Rory Barnes) successfully defended his dissertation for PhD in Astronomy with focus in Data Science on Wednesday April 29th via Zoom!