Astrophysicist Jake Clark, of USQ, has been granted a prestigious Fulbright Future Scholarship to potentially help answer one of the biggest mysteries of our universe: are we alone?

In the last 30 years, astronomers have looked to the stars trying to find habitable worlds like Earth. Mr Clark’s Fulbright project will use data collected by both Australia’s largest optical telescope, the Australian Anglo Telescope, and USQ’s very own Mount Kent Observatory. He will also use information from NASA’s new planet finding mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), as well as working with world expert Dr Natalie Hinkel, a Planetary Astrophysics and Senior Research Scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

“Instead of looking through huge all-sky telescope surveys, we can find planets by analysing the composition of their host stars beforehand,” Mr Clark said. “This project will potentially find large rocky worlds known as super-Earths, directly aiding in TESS’s primary scientific mission requirements”. As part of the scholarship, Mr Clark will spend six months at the Southwest Research Institute’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas next year. Mr Clark’s passion for the vast unknown of the universe started as a seven-year-old, when he would set an alarm clock so he could get up and wave to Australian astronaut Dr Andy Thomas up on the International Space Station as it passed by. “It is without a doubt, one of my fondest childhood memories,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, my career goal has always been to work at America’s national space agency, NASA. Through my research and this prestigious scholarship, I hope to show that no matter your background you can chase your dreams.”

The Fulbright program is the largest educational scholarship of its kind and was created by US Senator J William Fulbright and the US government in 1946 aimed at increasing research collaboration, cultural understanding and the exchange of ideas.

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