David Charbonneau is an astronomer recognized for his work studying planets orbiting other stars, known as exoplanets. He is known for making the first measurements of a planet transiting its parent star (which permitted the first determination of the size and density of an exoplanet), for developing novel techniques to make the first observations of exoplanet atmospheres, and for discovering nearby temperate, terrestrial worlds that are optimal for follow-up study. He was born in Ottawa, Canada and lived there until he moved to study mathematics, physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto. After receiving his PhD in astronomy from Harvard University, he was the R. A. Millikan Postdoctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. He returned to Harvard in 2004 to join the faculty in the Department of Astronomy.

Research Interests

David Charbonneau's research focusses on the detection and characterization of planets orbiting other stars, known as exoplanets, with the goal of studying inhabited worlds. He leads the MEarth project, which consists of two arrays of telescopes that survey the closest and smallest stars to find temperate, terrestrial worlds that pass in front of (or transit) their stars. In 2017 his team announced the discovery of the first planet that was known to be rocky, transit, and orbit within the habitable zone of a nearby small star. By studying the transmission of starlight when it passes through the atmosphere of a planet, Dr. Charbonneau and his team deduce the chemical composition of the exoplanet atmosphere. In the future, he seeks to use this method to detect combinations of gases that would indicate the presence of life. His focus on low-mass stars as exoplanet targets has also led to several discoveries concerning the physical processes by which theses stars maintain magnetic fields, and how they lose angular momentum as they age. He is a co-investigator in the NASA TESS Mission, scheduled for launch in 2018, which will search for the closest transiting exoplanets and hence the ones most accessible to detailed characterization.

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Primary Section

Section 12: Astronomy

Secondary Section

Section 13: Physics