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. We create high-fidelity spatial and spectral models of planetary systems to use in mission performance simulations.
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 is 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.

Solar System 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. et al. (2017)

Team Members

Dr. Aki Roberge(NASA GSFC)Principal investigator; Exozodiacal dust and debris disk observations
Dr. Maxime Rizzo(NASA GSFC)Post-doctoral fellow
Dr. Michael McElwain(NASA GSFC)Instrumentation for high-contrast exoplanet imaging
Prof. Vikki Meadows(U of Washington)Planet atmosphere modeling
Dr. Chris Stark(STScI)Debris disk dynamical theory
Dr. Margaret Turnbull(GSI)Star and planet characteristics

Giada Arney(University of Washington)2015
Tiffany Jansen(University of Washington)2015
Andrew Lincowski(University of Arizona)2014
Ashlee Wilkins(UMD, College Park)2013
Erika Nesvold(UMD, Baltimore County)2012
Maxime Rizzo(UMD, College Park)2010

NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration