Exoplanet surveys open a novel window into the high-temperature regime that governed atmospheric formation on Earth. However, the unknown diversification of long-lived atmospheres through variable internal composition introduces bias into interpretation of observational results. As a Branco Weiss Fellow, Dr. Lichtenberg will work toward overcoming this crucial gap by extending planetary physics based on the interior evolution and outgassing fractionation of volatile elements during high-temperature magma ocean episodes and the subsequent cooling of the planetary mantle that establish long-lived secondary atmospheres. This will enable astronomers to shed light upon the climate and surface geochemistry of the earliest Earth, and inform prebiotic chemists on the plausible range of planetary environmental conditions conducive for the origins of life.
- Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life Postdoctoral Fellow, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, 2019–2022
- Swiss National Science Foundation Early Postdoc.Mobility Fellow, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, 2018–2019
- PhD in planetary physics and planet formation, Department of Physics and Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, 2014–2018
- MSc Physics, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, 2012–2014
- Chinese language & culture, semester abroad, Peking University, P. R. China, 2012–2013
- BSc Physics, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, 2009–2012
- Winton Award for Early Achievement in Geophysics, Royal Astronomical Society, 2022
- Doctoral Thesis Award, German Astronomical Society, 2019
- PhD Prize for Planetary Systems and Astrobiology, International Astronomical Union, 2019
- Non-stipendiary Junior Research Fellowship, St. Cross College, University of Oxford, 2019
- Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life Postdoctoral Fellowship, Simons Foundation, 2018
- Early Postdoc.Mobility Fellowship, Swiss National Science Foundation, 2017
- ‘Dr. Berliner – Dr. Ungewitter’ prize for MSc Physics thesis, Göttingen University, 2014
Branco Weiss Fellow Since
Exoplanet Astronomy, Planetary Geophysics
Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
Recently suggested subaerial path hypotheses to the origins of life pose stringent limits on the planetary environmental context of the prebiotic Earth, but scarce geochemical data impede refined constraints on the onset of habitable surface conditions on the terrestrial planets of the Solar System. Near-future exoplanet surveys, however, will enable the atmospheric characterization of select super-Earths and constrain bulk properties of the planetary population inside the runaway greenhouse threshold. This opens a novel window into the high-temperature regime that governed atmospheric formation on Earth.
Dr. Tim Lichtenberg’s research goal as a Branco Weiss Fellow will be to realize spatially resolved simulations of rocky exoplanetary interiors and atmospheres to distinguish distinct redox regimes through self-consistent blueprints of atmospheric spectra that are uniquely connected to the planetary interior and evolutionary epoch. To establish a direct link between theoretical models of interior evolution and atmospheric formation with exoplanet transit and direct imaging surveys, the project will focus on three cornerstones: (1) providing synthetic spectra for diverse interior compositions and volatile inventories; (2) detailed simulations of the geodynamics and atmospheric build-up on individual planets that will be the target of observational campaigns; and (3) constraining the plausible planetary regimes and surface conditions of the earliest Earth from exoplanet data to inform origin of life theories. Connecting the coupled evolution of the interior and atmosphere in high-temperature regimes akin to the earliest Earth will allow astronomical observations to test the main chemical processes and physical pathways by which atmospheres can form on rocky planets, and how observational fingerprints of distinct climate regimes are connected to surface geochemistry and thermal evolution of the interior. Simulating the early geodynamical and atmospheric response of young rocky planets will enable exoplanet astronomers to infer distinct evolutionary paths of rocky exoplanets that are so far degenerate with respect to observationally accessible variables and inform prebiotic chemists on the plausible range of planetary environmental conditions conducive for surficial origins of life scenarios.