In what may well be a boost to Exoplanetology, the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute announced in September 2008 the introduction of the Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and solicits applications for fellowships. This probably is NASA's response to the the staggering pace of of discovery of planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets with more than 300 currently known.
The Sagan Fellowships support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the science goals of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration area. The primary goal of missions within this program is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars.
The Sagan Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration was created to inspire the next generation of explorers seeking to learn more about planets, and possibly life, around other stars.
Decades ago, long before any exoplanets had been found, the late Carl Sagan imagined such worlds, and pioneered the scientific pursuit of life that might exist on them. NASA's new Sagan fellowships will allow talented young scientists to tread the path laid out by Sagan. The program will award stipends of approximately $60,000 per year, for a period of up to three years, to selected postdoctoral scientists. Topics can range from techniques for detecting the glow of a dim planet in the blinding glare of its host star, to searching for the crucial ingredients of life in other planetary systems. The proposed research may be theoretical, observational, or instrumental. The selections will be announced in February 2009.
"Only a select few scientists carry the insight, vision and persistence to open entire new vistas on the cosmos," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Frederick P. Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "We know about Einstein. We know about Hubble. Add to this list Carl Sagan, who empowered us all -- scientists as well as the public -- to see planets not simply as cosmic objects but as worlds of their own that could harbor life."