Yifan Zhou first became intrigued by exoplanets upon seeing one in a Hubble Space Telescope image during a college research project. Today, he leverages high-precision data from that same space telescope to support his own observational technique for exploring distant worlds. Yifan measures how much mass young exoplanets gain over time, and maps the cloud patterns of older planets to probe their atmospheres for more detail. By monitoring objects at both new and mature stages of life, Yifan connects formation processes and atmospheric compositions, and constructs a more complete timeline of planetary evolution.

In his fellowship, Yifan will measure the growth of a young, giant exoplanet as it gains mass over multiple time scales. Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, he hopes to expand his methodology and provide deeper insights into the formation and cloud behavior of giant planets. In 2019, Yifan received a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona. Yifan was a Harlan J. Smith McDonald Observatory Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin prior to starting his 51 Pegasi b Fellowship.

“Scientific advances now allow us to measure the instantaneous mass growth rate of a planet as we observe it. Even more exciting is our ability to monitor that planet over different time periods to study the physical mechanisms of planet formation.”