A Belfast mathematician is working with NASA to determine if planets outside the solar system are capable of hosting life. 

Dr. Caoimhe Rooney has been working with the famous space agency for three years and revealed that she hopes to one day become an astronaut. 

She told BelfastLive that studying mathematics in college gave her opportunities that she did not believe were possible. 

"It wasn't until after I finished my degree at Trinity College and was doing my Ph.D. at Oxford when I realized just how many doors in my career that it could open," Rooney told BelfastLive. 

"Because maths is the underpinning of everything, I am able to dip my toe into lots of different areas and as long as you know the mathematics you can break things down into fundamental principles."

Rooney, who works in NASA's Planetary Systems Branch, said her work involves determining whether exoplanets outside the solar system could be home to extraterrestrial life. 

She said her team uses data collected by high-power telescopes, such as the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope, which detect light reflected or emitted from different planets. 

"It is like a rainbow where light is broken up into different colors, that is just visible light being broken up into different wavelengths. This is called spectroscopy and it can be used to uncover what the planet is made of," Rooney told BelfastLive. 

"I am involved in the modeling of these planetary spectra given the particular gases in its atmosphere or other characteristics of the planet." 

She said there are many planets that could potentially be suitable for life but added that it is almost impossible to determine without physically going to the planet. 

Rooney recently took part in a scientist-astronaut program in Florida, which is designed to prepare potential astronauts for space flight. 

"It is designed to help scientists prepare for space flight with things such as spacesuit testing, flight simulations and acrobatic flights which help the body to adapt to experiencing high G and negative Gs that you would be subject to during a space flight." 

Rooney said she hopes to be in a good position to be selected for a space flight in the near future and added that she is targeting a suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic.

Rooney said she was "thrilled" to be included in the "30 Under 30 - Europe - Science & Healthcare (2022)" list by Forbes recently:

I am thrilled and honoured to be included in the @Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list for Science and Healthcare! I am so fortunate to be doing the work I love at NASA and striving to increase the representation of women in maths through @mathematigals. pic.twitter.com/kYlncNTPdn

— Dr. Caoimhe Rooney (@CaoimheRooney11) May 3, 2022

The Forbes profile says: "Rooney is the sole mathematician within a group of astrophysicists at NASA Ames studying exoplanet atmospheres to understand how they formed, what they're made of, and if they could be home to extra-terrestrial life.

"She is also cofounder of Mathematigals, an educational initiative to boost representation of women and girls in math and STEM."