Faculty Fanfare: Diana Dragomir

Diana Dragomir Faculty Fanfare image

UNM Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Diana Dragomir has received a $750,000 NASA grant to continue her work studying exoplanets.


Dragomir leads 60 astronomers to use the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) telescope, which surveys the sky for exoplanets orbiting stars in the Solar neighborhood. NASA launched TESS in 2018, and the work funded by this grant will take place as part of TESS’s second mission, which is from September 2022 to September 2025. Continued work with the telescope is leading to new discoveries beyond what originally was envisioned for the device, according to Dragomir.


“TESS has been extraordinarily successful thanks in large part to coordination and collaborations between several hundred astronomers, whose ideas for new TESS science have collectively contributed to its success,” she said.


The award supports a postdoc, two graduate students and summer undergraduate interns at UNM, Dragomir said. One of the graduate students is from the University of North Carolina, which is a collaborator on the work.The award also will fund a workshop related to the scope of the grant. 


The grant aims to further understanding of the planet formation process, including how exoplanets – or any planet outside the solar system that goes around another star – come to be, by using  TESS to discover more exoplanets in increasingly larger orbits. 


Most known exoplanets, and especially those discovered by TESS so far, orbit very close to their stars, closer even than Mercury orbits the Sun. For most, one “year” lasts just days or weeks. With this award, we will identify exoplanets in larger orbits, similar to that of Mercury, Venus and even Earth,” Dragomir said.


“Though many of these planets will be giant planets (like Jupiter and Saturn), they will be extremely valuable for putting the Solar System in context by facilitating comparisons with our own planets,” she said.