Finding the Needles in the Haystacks

Introduction Further Details Model Downloads Simulated Data


In recent years, the rapid pace of exoplanet discoveries has brought the exciting goal of finding habitable planets around nearby stars (also known as “exoEarths”) and probing them for signs of life within reach. Discovering life outside the Solar System would revolutionize the human perspective on our place in the cosmos and dramatically transform whole fields of science.

The Haystacks Project will help prepare for future exoEarth observations by better defining the challenge, using the knowledge gained through decades of Solar System and extrasolar planetary studies. Haystacks models are high-fidelity spatial and spectral models of complete planetary systems including star, planets, interplanetary dust, and astrophysical background sources. They are intended for use in simulations of direct imaging and spectroscopy with high-contrast instruments on exoplanet missions.
An artist's conception of an exoEarth. An artist's conception of an exoEarth. Image credit: NASA / Lynette Cook

A slice from our first model – the modern Solar System – is shown below. The model includes spectral information for every element, which allows us to generate images at any wavelength between 0.3 μm and 2.5 μm. For ease of viewing, the Sun and astrophysical background sources are not included. The image on the left shows the entire Solar System, the image on the right shows the inner portion. At both distance scales, and at all wavelengths, the most conspicuous feature of the Solar System (after the Sun) is the haze of emission coming from interplanetary dust. The partial ring in the outer Solar System dust is caused by the dynamical influence of Neptune.

Modern Solar System Haystacks model
A slice from a high-fidelity model of the Solar System, viewed face-on from the outside. Image credit: A. Roberge & the Haystacks Team


Roberge, A., Rizzo, M. J., Lincowski, A. P., et al. (2017). "Finding the Needles in the Haystacks: High-fidelity Models of the Modern and Archean Solar System for Simulating Exoplanet Observations", PASP, 129, 124401

Team Members

Dr. Aki Roberge(NASA GSFC)Principal investigator; Exozodiacal dust and debris disk observations
Dr. Giada Arney(NASA GSFC)Planet spectrum models; Astrophysical background sources
Prof. Vikki Meadows(U of Washington)Planet atmosphere models
Dr. Laurent Pueyo(STScI)Instrument models
Dr. Maxime Rizzo(NASA GSFC)Instrument models
Dr. Gregory Snyder(STScI)Extragalactic background sources
Dr. Chris Stark(STScI)Debris disk dynamical theory
Dr. Neil Zimmerman(NASA GSFC)Instrument models
Dr. Margaret Turnbull(SETI)Star and planet characteristics

Tiffany Jansen(University of Washington)2015
Andrew Lincowski(University of Arizona)2014
Ashlee Wilkins(UMD, College Park)2013
Erika Nesvold(UMD, Baltimore County)2012

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