Canadian student to help NASA look for other-worldly Earths

Jonathan Gagné of Université de Montréal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets will be helping NASA look for Earth-like planets at Carnegie Institute of Washington, thanks to the administration's awarding of a Carl Sagan Fellowship to him. He is the first Quebecer to ever receive the fellowship. Gagné recently completed his PhD under the direction of David Lafrenière and René Doyon of the university's Department of Physics.


NASA administers the Carl Sagan Fellowship in order to support exceptional post-doctoral researchers whose independent projects are linked to the scientific objectives of NASA's exoplanet exploration programme. The main objective of this programme is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.

Gagné's doctoral project involved researching brown dwarf stars and low-mass stars that belong to kinematic associations of the solar neighbourhood. A kinematic association is a group of relatively young stars – between 10 to 150 million years old – that form from the same molecular cloud. They are sufficiently old to have dispersed the interstellar gas that was initially present and to distance themselves from each other. It is possible to ascertain that they belong to the same kinematic association as they move at very similar speeds across the galaxy, hence the name “kinematic association.”

The outcomes from Gagné's doctoral project are broad: a better understanding of the atmospheres of gas exoplanets (which are particularly difficult to study due to blinding of instruments by the proximity of their suns), the determination of which systems to study in the hunt for exoplanets, and the analysis of population statistics to better understand their distribution of masses at formation.

Once his thesis is submitted, Gagné will pursue his study at Washington DC's Carnegie Institute for Science. He will attempt to explore the link between the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and the atmospheres of giant exoplanets in order to test his scientific hypotheses. Carl Sagan Fellowship recipients are funded for up to three years in order to undertake their work at a host research institution in the United States.


·         NASA Announcement -

·         Université de Montréal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets -

·         Université de Montréal's Department of Physics –

Media Contact :
William Raillant-Clark
Media Relations – Université de Montréal
Tel. : 514 343-7593