Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Physics (PhD)

Degree Level





Julia Kennefick

Committee Member

Pradeep Kumar

Second Committee Member

Surendra Singh

Third Committee Member

Yong Wang


Atmospheres, Exoplanet, Planetary Science, TESS


The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has and is continuing to discover a multitude of potentially habitable planet candidates. As more planets are detected and confirmed, it becomes increasingly important to strategically search for signs of habitability with which to differentiate and prioritize them for further observation, in particular with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). To facilitate this, I have created a method for prioritizing TESS planet candidates based on parameters derived from their light curves and have applied the method to the TESS Candidate Target List (CTL). This data set uses preliminary fits to transit modeling which can rely on erroneous assumptions about the system, such as the use of a sun-like star to fit TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 700 d (Gilbert et al., 2020; Rodriguez et al. 2020). Such systems require additional followup fitting with proper inputs which is done after the initial prioritization. Nevertheless, this method identified two high-priority TOIs that lacked the extensive habitability study in this work: 256 and 203. I have further created a new modeling procedure and applied it to these TOIs as well as TOI 700 with the aim to constrain the possibility of liquid water being present. In most of the recent cases of observations targeting exoplanets, 3D General Circulation Models (GCMs) are used to infer planet composition and structure or to predict observations of scientific interest. However, previous modeling has focused on parameter spaces that are not statistically linked to the observational data (e.g. Del Genio et al. 2019a, Turbet et al. 2016). Accurate statistical modeling is vital to the confirmation of other habitable worlds. To address the problem, I have created a method to statistically investigate the habitability of exoplanets with a suite of 1D and 3D models using the \textit{VPlanet} software package (Barnes et al. 2020) and the ROCKE-3D GCM (Way et al. 2017). Furthermore, I have applied this method to the two TESS-observed planets and candidates which were most highly prioritized as well as TOI 700 d. This constitutes an end-to-end investigation of real TESS exoplanets and the potential for liquid water on their surfaces. This provides guidance for current and future NASA missions like JWST, helping to answer the question: is there life beyond Earth?