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NSF INSPIRE project: Modeling the Magnetic Interactions between Stars and Planets

New planets are now being discovered routinely around other stars with the Kepler mission recently detecting planets close to Earth-sized in the assumed habitable zones of their parent stars. The dramatic growth of exoplanet research in astronomy and its emphasis on discovering potentially habitable planets around other stars is a rich area for collaboration between the space physics and astronomy communities. Habitability is not viable around a magnetically active star without the protection of a substantial planetary magnetic field. Understanding the possible habitability of such planets, therefore, requires a deeper knowledge of how the stars and planets interact and, in particular, what role magnetic fields play in this interaction. This, in turn, requires a broad range of expertise encompassing stellar magnetism, stellar variability, exoplanet discovery and characterization, and, most importantly, space plasma physics. This proposal defines a targeted approach to exploring star-planet magnetic interactions utilizing our knowledge of the Sun’s interactions with the Earth, Saturn and Jupiter as calibration points and the expertise of the proposal team in modeling these systems. Capitalizing on the unique synergies within the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice, where we have leaders in the space physics, solar, and astronomy communities, and partnering with colleagues in Puerto Rico to bolster our radio astronomy and exoplanet expertise, provides a strong foundation from which to develop this relatively unique inter-disciplinary endeavor. Such an effort is well-suited to the goals of the INSPIRE program at the NSF: it attacks a problem of significance to a broad scientific community with the characterization and identification of possibly habitable exoplanets being endorsed by both the Astrophysics and Planetary Science Decadal Surveys while the better understanding of the Sun’s interaction with the planets of the solar system is a major component of the Space Physics Decadal survey. Furthermore, the proposed project is intrinsically inter-disciplinary, utilizing tools and science from a number of astronomy and space physics sub-disciplines. It also has a great potential for significant societal impact as it contributes to the search for life elsewhere in the galaxy.

Rice Press Release

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