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Frontiers of Science
Predicting the Future
The road to characterizing potentially habitable planets
CAD Modeling

Eric B FordFebruary 8, 2020

The road to characterizing potentially habitable planets

Presented by Eric B. Ford

Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, Penn State 

The Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds (CEHW) at Penn State discovers and characterizes planets beyond our solar system to understand the implications for the possibility of life beyond Earth. 

NASA’s Kepler mission discovered thousands of exoplanets, including hundreds of Earth-size planets. However, the planets discovered around sun-like stars by Kepler are typically thousands of light years away, making them difficult to study in detail. Penn State researchers have developed sophisticated modeling tools to deduce the distribution of planets and planetary systems in our galaxy.and have developed a new generation of instruments to test these models by searching nearby stars for Earth-mass planets. Learn how Penn State research is informing plans for a new generation of observatories and space missions to characterize potentially Earth-like planets.


Eric Ford's research aims to understand the formation of planetary systems by applying modern statistical and computational methods to interpret extrasolar planet observations.  

Ford is a Professor in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, a co-hire with Penn State’s Institute for CyberScience, director of the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, and an associate director of the Penn State Center for Astrostatistics.  Ford’s research group emphasizes the interface between theory and observation, including techniques for characterizing extrasolar planets, the statistical analysis of extrasolar planet observations, methodology for exoplanet demographics, and the efficient design of extrasolar planet surveys. As a member of the science team for NASA’s Kepler mission, Ford contributed to the confirmation of numerous planet candidates, measuring the masses and densities of dozens of small planets, and measuring the frequency of Earth-size planets around sun-like stars.  Now, Ford is working with the science teams for the Habitable Zone Planet Finder and NEID, two next-generation planet-hunting instruments built at Penn State, to enhance their ability to find rocky planets around nearby stars.