Sara Seager

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Election Year: 2015
Primary Section: 12, Astronomy
Secondary Section: 13, Physics
Membership Type: Member

Biosketch

Sara Seager is an astrophysicist and planetary scientist recognized for her work on exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than the sun. She is known particularly for her foundational ideas on exoplanet atmospheres, which helped define the field, and includes work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. Her work broadly extends to exoplanet interiors, biosignature gases, and space missions. Seager was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1971. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1994 with a BSc. in Math and Physics, and from Harvard University in 1999 with a PhD in Astronomy. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, was on the senior research staff at the Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington, DC, and joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007, where she is currently Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and the Class of 1941 Professor Chair. She has been awarded the Sackler Prize in the physical sciences in 2012, a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Professor Seager is interested in the search for and identification of Earth-like exoplanets and signs of life on habitable worlds. To that end her work focuses on exoplanet atmospheres and biosignature gases, gases produced by life that might accumulate in an exoplanet atmosphere and be remotely detected by a space telescope. Seager has worked on exoplanet atmospheres since the first discovery of giant exoplanets orbiting sun-like stars in the mid 1990s. Her early work founded many of the original concepts now standard in the field, most notably transmission spectra of transiting planets, work which led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. Her team later introduced other fundamental exoplanet characterization topics, including atmospheric retrieval, brightness variability of terrestrial planets, and a critical discriminator to discovering transiting exoplanets. Her team is currently focused on an exhaustive list of potential biosignature gases in light of false positives for different exoplanet environments. Prof. Seager is involved with many space missions to find and characterize exoplanets, as a PI on ASTERIA, a prototype for a concept for a fleet of nanosatellites, a co-I on the MIT-led NASA mission TESS, and a past chair of the NASA Probe-Class Starshade Rendezvous mission study.

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