Subcommittees Discuss Exoplanet Research and Discoveries
(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittees on Space and Research held a joint hearing entitled, “Exoplanet Discoveries: Have We Found Other Earths?” to discuss the search for exoplanets, and their relevance to life on Earth, as well as to review the advances in exoplanet research including the Kepler mission’s recent discovery of three super-Earth sized planets. Testifying before the Subcommittees were Dr. Laurance Doyle, Principal Investigator with the Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute and member of the NASA Kepler Mission Science Team; Dr. John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and Dr. James Ulvestad, Division Director for the Division of Astronomical Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
An exoplanet, or extrasolar planet, is a planet which orbits a star other than our own Sun. The ultimate goal of exoplanet research is the detection of a rocky, Earth-like planet in the “habitable zone,” a region in which a planet is close enough to its star to have liquid water, but not so close that it is too hot for life and establishing the existence of extraterrestrial life on that planet. As of today, the existence of almost 900 exoplanets has been confirmed and 2700 candidates await further review. Exoplanet research is done using both NSF funded ground-based telescopes as well as NASA’s space-based telescopes.
Ranking Member of the Research Subcommittee, Dan Lipinski (D-IL), said in his statement for the record, “This is exactly the type of scientific pursuit that expands our understanding of the world, or worlds, around us and grips the imagination of scientists and the public at large, even though we have no idea what we will find.”
Members and witnesses discussed why exoplanet research is important to science and to the American people; the latest developments in exoplanet research and new technologies that are currently being planned and developed; how NSF and NASA cooperate and coordinate on exoplanet research; how scientists have been able to use observatories such as the Hubble telescope, that were not originally designed or planned for exoplanet research, to advance the field; and how the current budgetary environment and the sequester affect exoplanet research.
Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said in her statement for the record, “Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said in her statement for the record, “We are making progress in the fundamental questions of where do we come from and whether we are alone in the Universe. NASA and NSF have exciting exoplanet research both underway and planned that will gain further insight into those questions. Unfortunately, this research will take time and resources; two things hard to come by in this difficult budgetary environment.”