Motivated by theoretical questions, Luke Bouma is compelled to discover how different planet archetypes come to exist. His niche is observing young versions of the mature planetary systems routinely detected in our galaxy. The host stars of these young planets are intrinsically rare, and their flares and varying brightness can make planet detection challenging. To address these issues, Luke combines data from the European Space Agency-led Gaia space observatory and NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Once equipped with information needed to locate young stars via Gaia, and with TESS snapshots, Luke uses software he developed to measure the brightness of stars over time, and infer the existence of planets as they pass in front of stars.

In his fellowship, Luke will refine his observational methods to test theories on the dominant modes of production for hot Jupiters—gas giants that orbit very close to their stars. By investigating individual systems to see if young stars host hot Jupiters as often as old stars, Luke hopes to tell a more coherent story about planetary formation and evolution. Combined data from TESS and Gaia—and future space observatory missions—will aid him in his quest. Luke received a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Princeton University in Fall 2021.

“Looking at young planetary systems and comparing them to older ones gives us a unique chance to wind back the clock and study the origins of these worlds.”