Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Amber Vanessa Young


Amber Vanessa Young's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.5701
Org Code: 693
Mail Code 693
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

My name is Dr. Amber Young and I am a Pathways Research Assistant in the Planetary Systems Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. As an Astrobiologist, I use climate and photochemical modeling tools to model the atmospheres of terrestrial planets to understand and characterize signatures that are indicative of life. In particular, I am interested in characterizing the detectability of known biosignature gases (e.g., O2, CH4) and chemical disequilibrium signatures using atmospheric modeling and retrieval analysis techniques. I am also engaged in developing observational strategies for characterizing habitable exoplanets using an observational decision tree framework approach applicable to future direct imaging missions like the Habitable Worlds Observatory.

Current Projects

The Roadmap to Life Elsewhere: The Biosignature Decision Tree Framework

Extrasolar planets

Exciting discoveries are on the horizon with the development of a next generation mission concept called the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO). With this new mission one of the main objectives will be to search for atmospheric biosignatures on a sample of potentially habitable exoplanets. My main goal in this research project is to help develop robust life detection strategies for HWO that take into account searching for biosignatures of interest to the community, ruling out false-positives, all while maintaining observational efficiency. To do this, our research team has worked to develop a preliminary observational biosignature decision tree, which is a framework designed to organize exoplanet observations based on wavelength and our understanding of Earth's inhabitance over the course of its geological history.

The Search for Life is in Flux: Connecting Biosignature Gas Detections to Physical Processes

An important aspect to searching for biosignatures on other planets is being able to rule out potential false positives mechanisms that can mimic signs of life. This means that assessing the validity of a life detection will involve connecting an observed biosignature to physical planetary processes. As part of my research, the goal is to use retrieval modeling coupled with atmospheric photochemical/climate modeling tools to determine our ability to infer chemical species fluxes (i.e., production/destruction rates) from abundance information that can be gathered from a planet’s spectrum.

Examining the Detectability of Chemical Disequilibrium Biosignatures

Extrasolar planets

Another main area of my research is studying chemical disequilibrium, another potentially key biosignature we could search for on other worlds. The idea is that life’s metabolic processes could influence the chemical state of a planet’s atmosphere similarly to how life has played a significant role in influencing Earth’s atmosphere over time. In this study, I examined our ability to infer chemical disequilibrium from simulated remote observations of Earth-like exoplanet analogs. This involved coupling atmospheric retrievals with a thermodynamics model in order to determine how observational uncertainty influences our interpretations of chemical disequilibrium.


Pathways Research Assistant, Planetary Studies

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - 8800 Greenbelt Rd Greenbelt MD, 20771

January 2023 - Present


Ph.D. Astronomy & Planetary Sciences, Northern Arizona University (August 2023)

M.S. Physics, Fisk University (June 2019)

B.S. Planetary Science & Astronomy (May 2016)



  • NASA Pathways Fellowship (January 2023)
  • NASA MSI Fellowship Activity (August 2021)


  • Women In Science and Engineering Scholarship (January 2015)
  • Presidents Freshman Award (December 2012)



2024. "Optimized bandpasses for the Habitable Worlds Observatory’s exoEarth survey." Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems 10 (01): [10.1117/1.jatis.10.1.014005] [Journal Article/Letter]

2024. "Chapter 8: Searching for Life Beyond Earth." Astrobiology 24 (S1): S-164-S-185 [10.1089/ast.2021.0104] [Journal Article/Letter]

2024. "Chapter 1: The Astrobiology Primer 3.0." Astrobiology 24 (S1): S-4-S-39 [10.1089/ast.2021.0129] [Journal Article/Letter]

2024. "Inferring chemical disequilibrium biosignatures for Proterozoic Earth-like exoplanets." Nature Astronomy 8 (1): 101-110 [10.1038/s41550-023-02145-z] [Journal Article/Letter]

2024. "Retrievals Applied to a Decision Tree Framework Can Characterize Earthlike Exoplanet Analogs." The Planetary Science Journal 5 (1): 7 [10.3847/psj/ad09b1] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Bayesian Analysis for Remote Biosignature Identification on exoEarths (BARBIE). II. Using Grid-based Nested Sampling in Coronagraphy Observation Simulations for O2 and O3." The Astronomical Journal 167 (1): 27 [10.3847/1538-3881/ad0fde] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "A Radiative-convective Model for Terrestrial Planets with Self-consistent Patchy Clouds ." The Planetary Science Journal 4 (5): 94 [10.3847/psj/acbf2d] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "The response of Phanerozoic surface temperature to variations in atmospheric oxygen concentration." Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 121 (17): 10,089-10,096 [10.1002/2016jd025459] [Journal Article/Letter]

Talks, Presentations and Posters


Exploring Exoplanets: The Hunt for Biosignatures

November 2023

Colloquium Speaker at Spelman College


Examining Chemical Disequilibrium Biosignatures and Observational Strategies for Earth-like Exoplanets

February 2024

American Astronomical Society

Applying a Direct Imaging Decision Tree Strategy to a Modern Earth-like Exoplanet Analog

February 2023

American Astronomical Society Meeting

Inferring Chemical Disequilibrium Biosignatures for Earth-like Exoplanets via Atmospheric Retrieval

June 2022

Astrobiology Science Conference

Quantifying Chemical Disequilibrium Biosignatures in Analogs for Earth-like Exoplanet Atmospheres

February 2020

American Astronomical Society Meeting

Simulated Exoplanet Observations with HabEx and LUVOIR: Preparing for the Hunt for Biosignatures

August 2019

Astrobiology Graduate Conference

Coronagraph Simulations for HabEx

November 2018

HabEx Community Meeting on Astrophysics

Simulations of Methane on Mars Utilizing Curiosity Data

September 2018

Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planet Atmpospheres-3

Modeling MSL Measurements of Modern Martian Methane

May 2017

Astrobiology Science Conference

Making Martian Methane via Surface H Release


American Geophysical Union Conference

Selected Public Outreach

Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Mentor

August 2020 - September 2023

Penn State NEXUS Orientation Leader

August 2014 - June 2016

Penn State Lion Ambassador Volunteer

May 2016 - June 2016