The first discovery of an “exoplanet”—a planet outside of our solar system—came as recently as 1995. Since then, there have been more than four hundred discoveries. Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger is at work on the next step: examining these planets, and any Avatar-like moons, for signs of life. She leads a discussion of the burgeoning field of planet hunting, which is bringing us ever closer to a new view of the starry skies—from a universe of distant fires to a universe of other lands.
Lisa Kaltenegger is fascinated by the search for planets around other stars and the question of how we can decipher their spectral fingerprints to know if they are like our own Earth. She is a member of NASA’s Executive Committee on Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (EXOPAG), the NASA Astrobiology Institute on Advent of Complex Life. She has received several awards, among them the America’s Young Innovators from Smithsonian magazine (2007) and the Beatrice Tinseley Fellowship (2009). She also has an asteroid named after her (040377). Kaltenegger received her Ph.D. from the University of Graz in 2005, awarded personally by the Austrian president for outstanding academic achievements.