The Institute for Habitable Astrospheres (IHA) strives to foster truly interdisciplinary studies to set the stage for long-duration space flight and understand the properties astrospheres must have to allow life to develop on planets.
Are we alone in the Universe? Is Earth the only habitable planet? Such questions have haunted humanity for generations. In the recent decade, we have developed the technology to search for planets in stellar systems outside of Earth’s solar system. The next big step is the search for another Earth-like planet elsewhere in the Universe that might harbor life. An important component of whether we will find a life-supporting planet will be the function of the surrounding astrosphere.
Most exoplanets live inside the astrospheres of their host stars and the evolution of exoplanet atmospheres and surface habitability are controlled by this environment. We know very little about astrospheres in general, but studies of the outer heliosphere provide a unique way to understand the critical mechanisms by which inflowing interstellar plasma, including its magnetic field and its neutral, ionized, and nonthermal particles, controls the shape and properties of astrospheres.
Astrospheres shield stars and their planets from energetic particles called galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) that stream through the galaxy. The shielding of GCRs by astrospheres is a fundamental, open question whose answer is important to assess the habitability of exoplanets.
The hazards of the space radiation environment have been known from the early days of space exploration. What is less well known are the potential cumulative effects from both the space and target-induced environments on human crews. IHA will focus on understanding the effects of GCRs on radiation deposition in material encountered and in long-distance space travel.
IHA will foster studies in space physics, in particular, from the shielding properties of the heliosphere to studies of chemistry and biology that set the conditions of life including effects of GCRs on radiation.
IHA will serve in its first year as part of the SHIELD Phase I umbrella in its role as a centralized location where discussions between members of different communities can explore connections and foster new collaborations.
The initial goal is to identify outstanding questions that can only be answered with truly interdisciplinary approach and set up collaborations to answer these questions.