A new study finds that researchers can detect oxygen in the atmosphere of a habitable planet orbiting a white dwarf (as shown in this artist’s illustration). Here the ghostly blue ring is a planetary nebula — hydrogen gas the star ejected as it evolved from a red giant to a white dwarf.
John Kovac, Assistant Professor in Harvard's Astronomy and Physics departments, has been awarded the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award by the National Science Foundation. NSF describes these grants as their "most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations."
Kovac's research seeks to illuminate the earliest moments of our universe through precision measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). A theory known as "inflation" explains apparent paradoxes of cosmology by proposing that the universe went through a brief period of massive expansion just a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. If this theory is true, it would leave a faint but observable signature in the polarization of the CMB, emitted 380,000 years later.