Postdoc receives NASA Hubble Fellowship to study exoplanets

Jake Turner, postdoctoral researcher in Ray Jayawardhana’s group in the Department of Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been selected from among 400 applicants as one of 24 new fellows in NASA’s prestigious Hubble Fellowship Program.

The program enables outstanding postdoctoral scientists to pursue independent research in any area of NASA astrophysics at a U.S. institution of their choice; each fellowship provides the awardee up to three years of support.

Jake Turner

Fellows are named to one of three subcategories corresponding to three broad scientific questions NASA seeks to answer about the universe. Turner has been named as a Sagan Fellow, investigating “are we alone?” He will stay on at Cornell for the Fellowship with Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of astronomy, continuing as his faculty mentor.

“These outstanding young scientists are the future of astrophysics, and their impact on our understanding of the cosmos will be felt for decades to come,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C..

“It is wonderful to have Jake’s exciting work on the front lines of exoplanet research, using radio and optical telescopes on the ground as well as data from space observatories, recognized and supported by the NASA Hubble Fellowship Program,” Jayawardhana said.

Turner’s research is focused on studying the magnetic fields, atmospheres and orbital evolution of exoplanets. As a Sagan Fellow, Turner plans on using low-frequency radio observations to confirm the first direct measurement of an exoplanet’s magnetic field; his proposal is entitled “Studying Exoplanetary Magnetic Fields Using Radio and High-Resolution Spectropolarimetry Observations.”

Observations of an exoplanet’s magnetic field will provide valuable insights into the planet’s interior structure, formation, evolution, atmospheric escape and dynamics, and possible habitability.

In addition, Turner plans on studying dozens of close-in exoplanets to search for signs of their magnetic fields using radio and high-resolution spectropolarimetry observations. The techniques and lessons learned from this research will be directly applicable to future radio and optical telescopes.

Turner received bachelor degrees in physics and astronomy in 2011 from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in astronomy in 2018 from the University of Virginia. His previous honors include a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

He has been working with Jayawardhana as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell since 2018.

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Jeff Tyson