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Issue 2 - April 2011

HEADLINES

  1. President Speaks on Exoplanets: A Message from the Program Manager
  2. Exo-Futures Trading: Planning for the New Decade
  3. Open Season: Kepler Update
  4. First for WFIRST
  5. Exploring the Atmospheres of Earth-like Exoplanets
  6. Big Love: Animating Kepler's Family Find
  7. Round 2011: Sagan Fellows Take to the Ring
  8. ExoToon: Planet-Finding on a Budget

1. President Speaks on Exoplanets: A Message from the Program Manager

Photo of Michael Devirian
By Michael Devirian

"Astronomers tell us, with good Reason, that not only all the Planets and Satellites in our own Solar System, but all the unnumbered Worlds that revolve around the Fixt stars are inhabited...." - John Adams

After all, it is April Fools' Day and I sat down to write this on President's Day, and I didn't say it was the current President. While perhaps not a rigorous scientific statement at the time, it begins to look prescient as fantastic scientific results come pouring in. Kepler's data release and publications (http://kepler.nasa.gov/) have transformed the field from one of counting individuals to dealing with populations of exoplanets. Read More...

2. Exo-Futures Trading: Planning for the New Decade

Photo of Wes Traub
By Wes Traub

Exoplanet science took several big steps forward this quarter, with the number of planets and candidates now totaling over three times the number we had a year ago. Exoplanet planning for future missions also entered a new phase with the startup of a science definition team for WFIRST, and community decisions to actively prepare for a mid-decade review in 2015 leading to an exoplanet direct imaging mission in the 2020s, as recommended by Astro2010. Here is my view of these and other events of note... Read More...

3. Open Season: Kepler Update

By Nick Gautier
Kepler Spacecraft

The Kepler team wound up analysis of last year's followup observing season with a paper (Borucki, et al., submitted to The Astrophysical Journal) accompanying the February public release of Quarter 2 of the Kepler data. 1235 planet candidates were announced in the paper, more than tripling the list of exoplanets discovered. The Kepler Operations Team is preparing to roll Kepler into it's Spring attitude during the week of March 21st to begin Quarter 9 of data collection. The Follow-up Observing Team has just begun the 2011 season of ground based observations of Kepler planet candidates, which will continue until November.

4. First for WFIRST

By Neil Gehrels
Artist concept of spacecraft.

We just had the first meeting of the Science Definition Team (SDT) of the WFIRST mission and are off to a great start. The SDT is tasked to work with the project offices at Goddard and JPL to formulate the mission according to the guidelines of the Decadal Survey report and budget realities. That is not an easy job. The first deadline is developing options by this summer to aid NASA in possible discussions with ESA. The Decadal Survey gave WFIRST its top ranking in the large space mission category to perform infrared sky surveys for dark energy, exoplanets and general astronomy. The SDT will meet for approximately 2 years. Membership and other information about WFIRST can be found at http://wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov/.

5. Exploring the Atmospheres of Earth-like Exoplanets

By Jacob Bean, Sagan Fellow
Artist's concept of exoplanet.

One of the most exciting aspects of the field of exoplanets is the push towards the detailed study of habitable planets. Although most attention in this area is focused on Sun-like stars and has a time-horizon of decades, low-mass stars offer a real opportunity for the detection and atmospheric characterization of such planets in the near future. My work is focused developing ways to overcome the technical challenges to making these kinds of observations for planetary systems around low-mass stars, and I have led two advances in this area in the last two years. One breakthrough has been the construction and implementation of a gas absorption cell that enables high-precision radial velocity measurements in the near-infrared wavelength region. Another breakthrough has been the development of a technique for high-precision transit spectroscopy measurements using ground-based telescopes. Both the radial velocity and transit spectroscopy techniques have allowed us to push down to the regime of super-earth type planets around low-mass stars. The next step will be to build dedicated instruments on the biggest telescopes to push the methods to the next level. It is exciting that the era of finding and characterizing Earth-mass planets in the habitable zones of nearby, low-mass stars is just around the corner. More information...

6. Big Love: Animating Kepler's Family Find

Still from Kepler Animation

PlanetQuest EPO collaborated with the Kepler mission media team to provide graphics and animation to accompany what has arguably been Kepler's most important news release to date: the discovery of five Earth-size planets, a six-planet solar system, and over 1,000 new exoplanet candidates. Click here and here to view the animations. For more information, contact Joshua Rodriguez: jdrodrig@jpl.nasa.gov.

7. Round 2011: Sagan Fellows Take to the Ring

Photo of Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan once said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Well, extraordinary evidence also requires both extraordinary science and extraordinary Fellows. After much deliberation by the selection committee, NExScI is very proud to congratulate the extraordinary recipients of the 2011 Sagan Fellowships. In alphabetical order, they are: Mr. Bryce Croll (MIT): "Multiwavelength Characterization of the Atmospheres of Alien Worlds"; Mr. David Kipping (Harvard CfA): "A Search for Exomoons"; Dr. Wladimir Lyra (JPL): "Planet Formation in Protostellar Disks Through Vortices in Layered Accretion Flows"; Ms. Katie Morzinski (U of Arizona): "Characterizing Exoplanet Atmospheres with High-Contrast 0.5-5um Adaptive Optics"; Dr. Sloane Wiktorowicz (UC Santa Cruz): "Direct Detection of Exoplanets and Debris Disks with Polarimetry". We will be featuring short snippets of their research in this Newsletter over the next few years, so please stay tuned! More information...

8. ExoToon: Planet-Finding on a Budget

This Issue's Comic

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program Office: Michael Devirian, Wesley Traub.
Editor: Carolyn Brinkworth, NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, newworldsnews@ipac.caltech.edu.
Cartoonist: Alex Novati.
Written Contributions: Michael Devirian, JPL; Wesley Traub, JPL; Nick Gautier, JPL; Michael Greene, JPL; Neil Gehrels, Goddard Space Flight Center; Jacob Bean, Harvard
Design and Technical Support: Michael Greene, JPL; Randal Jackson, JPL; Joshua Rodriguez, JPL; Raytheon Web Solutions.
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I

EVENTS

41st Saas-Fee Advanced Course: From Planets to Life - April 3-9
Location: Location: Villars sur Ollon, Switzerland
Signposts of Planets - April 12-14
Location: Goddard Space Flight Center
Exploring Strange New Worlds: From Giant Planets to Super Earths - May 1-6
Location: Flagstaff, AZ
AAS Summer Meeting - May 22-26
Location: Boston, MA
Second CoRoT Symposium: Transiting Planets, Vibrating Stars and their Connection - June 13-17
Location: Marseille, France
Magnetic Fields in Stars and Exoplanets: Future Directions in Observational and Theoretical Studies - August 22-25
Location: Potsdam, Germany
Extreme Solar Systems II - September 11-17
Location: Jackson Hole, WY
First Kepler Science Conference - December 5-9
Location: NASA Ames, CA
NEW! Exploring Exoplanets From the Antarctic - January 16-20 2012
Location: South Pole, Antarctica

PLANETFINDING
IN THE NEWS

Jan. 10, 2011
Rocky Exoplanet Milestone in Hunt for Earth-like Worlds
BBC News

NASA Mission Finds its First Rocky Planet Outside our Solar System
CNN
Jan. 11, 2011
The Dwarf Planet Eris May Not Be So Big After All
NY Times
Jan. 13, 2011
Solar Flares on Dwarf Stars Could Threaten Alien Life
BBC News
Feb. 2, 2011
Six Exoplanets in Close Orbit Around Far-Flung Star
BBC News

Kepler Planet Hunter Finds 1,200 Possibilities
NY Times

Kepler Telescope Finds Swarm of New Worlds
Time
Feb. 3, 2011
Exoplanet Hunt Turns up 54 Potentially Habitable Worlds
BBC News
Feb. 19, 2011
'Music of the Stars' Now Louder
BBC News

Scientists Pleasantly Surprised by Number of Earth-size, Distant Planets
CNN
March 27th 2011
Alien Life, Coming Slowly Into View
NY Times

PROGRAM WEBSITES

Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP)
PlanetQuest - Public Outreach Website
NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI)