The Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) is a recently funded 5-year project which seeks to improve our understanding of the range of plausible environments and the likely signatures of life on extrasolar terrestrial planets. To achieve these goals we are developing a suite of innovative modeling tools to simulate the environments and spectra of extrasolar planets. The core of the VPL is a coupled radiative transfer/climate/chemistry model, which is augmented by interchangeable modules which characterize geological, exogenic, atmospheric escape, and life processes. The VPL is validated using data derived from terrestrial planets within our own solar system.
The VPL will be used to explore the plausible range of atmospheric compositions and globally-averaged spectra for extrasolar planets and for early Earth, improving our understanding of the effect of life on a planet's atmosphere and surface. We will produce a comprehensive spectral catalog, and provide recommendations on the optimum wavelength range, spectral resolution, and instrument sensitivity required to characterize extrasolar terrestrial planets. Although developed by our team, the VPL is envisioned to be a comprehensive and flexible tool, which can be collaboratively used by the broader planetary science and astrobiology communities. This presentation will describe the project concept, the tasks involved, and will show highlights of current progress to date. This work is funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.