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Issue 4 - October 2011

HEADLINES

  1. I Know What We Did Last Summer
  2. Going for the Extreme in Jackson Hole
  3. The TDEM Six: Tech Awards for Exoplaneteers
  4. Kepler Gushing Planets: Over a Dozen Make the Cut
  5. WFIRST Hits to Second Base with Interim Design
  6. Eyes Wide Open: First Light for LBTI Camera
  7. 70 Flock to Caltech to Dish on Microlensing
  8. ALMA Children: No Soap in these Proto Disks
  9. Put Your Hat in the Ring for Exoplanet Research
  10. Alien vs Editor: PlanetQuest Debuts New Blog
  11. ExoToon: Severe Seasons

1. I Know What we did Last Summer

Photo of Michael Devirian
By Michael Devirian

Dear Exoplaneteers,

I hope you had an excellent summer and are refreshed for renewed participation in the exciting field of exoplanetology. While programmatic events have been on a slow roll during the summer, exciting scientific results on exoplanets have continued to come in (because science never sleeps). In particular, the Kepler early data release on September 23 was chock full of wondrous new planets.

As reported below, the 2011 Sagan Summer Workshop: Exploring Exoplanets with Microlensing was held at Caltech, and calls for 2012 Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships and for 2012A Keck observing time were issued. At LBTI, progress continues with the installation of the adaptive secondary mirror number 2, so we expect NASA key science to begin in a few months. In our technology program, a new round of Technology Development for Exoplanet Missions awards were announced... Read More...

2. Going for the Extreme in Jackson Hole

Photo of Wes Traub
By Wes Traub

The Extreme Solar Systems II meeting was held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in mid-September, with about 328 participants. There were 117 oral papers delivered over the course of a week, plus 173 posters; there is no better gauge of the vibrancy of the exoplanet field than having this many people gathering to talk about so many aspects of exoplanets. The HARPS team announced 41 new exoplanets, and the WASP team announced 23 new planets, both using radial velocity. The Kepler team announced 500-plus new transiting exoplanets (see below), and in addition announced the discovery of a planet orbiting a close binary star. See the program and people at http://ciera.northwestern.edu/Jackson2011/ and news coverage at http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110919/full/477383a.html among others. Read More...

3. The TDEM Six: Tech Awards for Exoplaneteers

By Peter Lawson
Peter Lawson

We are excited to announce that six new proposals for Technology Development for Exoplanet Missions (TDEM) have been selected. These proposals include various topics in coronagraph and starshade technology. Two proposals were selected for starlight suppression demonstrations using coronagraph techniques that yield very small inner working angles. The first, awarded to Olivier Guyon of the University of Arizona, is entitled "Advances in Pupil Remapping (PIAA) coronagraphy: improving Bandwidth, Throughput and Inner Working Angle." This work will use pairs of specially shaped mirrors to reshape the diffraction features that lie close-in to a stellar image, thus making planet detection easier for close-in planets. This is an extension of previously successful laboratory work. The second is awarded to Eugene Serabyn of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, for "Demonstrations of Deep Starlight Rejection with a Vortex Coronagraph." This approach uses a rotationally symmetric phase mask that operates through the polarization properties of liquid crystal polymers. Prior work in this area has included preliminary lab demonstrations and observations of HR 8799 with the Palomar 5-m telescope. Read More...

4. Kepler Gushing Planets: Over a Dozen Make the Cut

By Nick Gautier
Artist concept of spacecraft.

Kepler is operating normally in its 10th quarter of data collection. Quarter 10 will end near the end of September, and the Kepler spacecraft will roll into its winter attitude. The Kepler team is accelerating data releases to enhance community participation in Kepler science. Quarter 3 data will be released on 23 September with further accelerated releases beginning early next year. Details of the new release schedule will be made public at the Kepler Science Conference in December.

The Kepler pipeline data processor has begun use a multi-quarter planets search that can identify planet candidates with period longer than 45 days. The September data release will benefit from this new planet search capability and will include several hundred more identified planet candidates, some with periods more than 200 days. More Earth-size candidates and more candidates in habitable zones are being found. As of 15 September the Kepler team has confirmed and published six new planets since February, with more than 10 additional planets being prepared for publication. Exciting results on the properties of Kepler target stars are continuing to come from asteroseismic analysis of the Kepler data.

Round two of Kepler Participating Scientists have been selected and 7 new PSPs have joined the Kepler team along with 5 continuing PSPs. The First Kepler Science Conference will be held on 5-9 December 2011 at NASA Ames Research Center.

5. WFIRST Hits to Second Base with Interim Design

By Neil Gehrels
WFIRST

The WFIRST mission made a significant step forward this summer with the completion of an interim report on the mission and interim design. The report was compiled by the WFIRST Science Definition Team (SDT) working with the Project office. The co-chairs of the SDT are Drs. Jim Green and Paul Schechter, with full membership given at http://wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov/. The interim design is quite similar to that laid out in the New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey. The report has been submitted to NASA HQ, presented to NASA's Astrophysics Subcommittee and is being briefed to the Office of Management and Budget.

6. Eyes Wide Open: First Light for LBTI Camera

By Rafael Millan-Gabet
LBTI

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI, Principal Investigator Phil Hinz - University of Arizona) continues its commissioning activities with great success. During a commissioning run in May 22-24, 2011 the Nulling Imaging Camera saw first light! The activities were focused on demonstrating on-sky adaptive optics imaging at 2-5 microns, and on instrument optimization. In addition, preliminary shared risk science observations were conducted on a number of Solar System objects, young stars, and hyper-giant stars. Full LBTI operations in Nuller mode is expected to start in Spring 2012, beginning with the execution of the exo-zodi characterization Key Science Program, led by P.I. Phil Hinz. It is anticipated that the program will include interested members of the exo-planet community via a call for participation to be issued in Fall 2011.

7. 70 Flock to Caltech to Dish on Microlensing

By Dawn Gelino
microlensing

NExScI hosted the very successful 2011 Sagan Summer Workshop, "Exploring Exoplanets with Microlensing", on the Caltech campus July 24 - 29. There were 70 registrants in attendance from 11 different countries. In addition to several interactive workshop features, including hands-on activities dealing with real microlensing data, the workshop hosted a very well attended WFIRST panel discussion including members of the WFIRST Science Definition Team. Written feedback from the workshop attendees was universally positive. Along with an average score (from all attendees including the speakers) of 8.8 out of 10 for how useful the workshop was, written comments included, "Best workshop I've ever attended!" from a senior staff level attendee. The invited presentations, as well as contributed presentations and electronic posters are available from the workshop website: http://nexsci.caltech.edu/workshop/2011/index.shtml.

8. ALMA Children: No Soap in these Proto Disks

By Lucas Cieza, 2010 Sagan Fellow (University of Hawaii)
protoplanetary disk

Protoplanetary disks are a natural outcome of the star formation process and the sites where planets form. In the last 15 years, astronomers have discovered hundreds of mature exoplanets in the solar neighborhood; however, the precise mechanisms through which planets are formed still remain largely unknown. I study protoplanetary disks with the overall goal of placing observational constraints on planet formation theories. With the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) starting early science operations this October, this area of research is about to enter a golden era. My research over the last few years has focused on identifying protoplanetary disks with strong evidence for ongoing giant planet formation. These objects, known as "transition disks", represent the ultimate planet formation laboratories and are invaluable ALMA targets. ALMA will allow us to study protoplanetary disks with unprecedented detailed and establish the conditions in which planets form. While waiting for ALMA, I have also been working on programs to attempt the direct the detection of forming planets at near-IR wavelengths using the so-called aperture masking technique with Keck and the VLT.

9. Put Your Hat in the Ring for Exoplanet Research

Carl Sagan

NExScI is currently soliciting applications for the 2012 Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, due Thursday November 3rd, with funding to start in the Fall of 2012.

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 proposed research may be theoretical, observational, or instrumental and the program is open to applicants of any nationality who have earned (or will have earned) their doctoral degrees on or after January 1st 2009.

For more information, please see the NExScI website: http://nexsci.caltech.edu/sagan/fellowship.shtml or email us at saganfellowship@ipac.caltech.edu

10. Alien vs Editor: PlanetQuest Debuts New Blog

Alien vs. Editor

The PlanetQuest public outreach website has debuted "Alien vs Editor", a new blog by JPL astronomer and educator Steve Edberg. In his weekly column, Steve addresses user-submitted questions about exoplanet science and discoveries, in addition to his own musings on everything from habitable zones to recumbent bicycle telescopes. Visit "Alien vs Editor" at planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/ave or contact Joshua Rodriguez jdrodrig@jpl.nasa.gov for more information.

11. ExoToon: Severe Seasons

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: Stephen Kane (NExScI, IPAC)
Written Contributions: Michael Devirian, JPL; Wesley Traub, JPL; Peter Lawson, JPL; Neil Gehrels, Goddard Space Flight Center; Rafael Millan-Gabet, JPL; Nick Gautier, JPL; Lucas Cieza, University of Hawaii; Dawn Gelino, Caltech; Joshua Rodriguez, JPL
Design and Technical Support: Michael Greene, JPL; Randal Jackson, JPL; Joshua Rodriguez, JPL; Raytheon Web Solutions.
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I

EVENTS

Exoplanetary magnetic fields and stellar-planetary magnetic interactions: Modelling, Detection, Characterization (session MG3 at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2011) - Oct 3-7
Location: Nantes, France
Signposts of Planets - Oct. 18-20
Location: Goddard Space Flight Center
First International Planetary Cave Research Workshop: Implications for Astrobiology, Climate, Detection, and Exploration - Oct. 25-28
Location: Carlsbad, New Mexico
2012 Sagan Fellowship Application Deadline: November 3rd, 4PM Pacific
First Kepler Science Conference - December 5-9
Location: NASA Ames, CA
ExoPAG Meeting - Jan 7-8
Location: Austin, Texas
AAS 219th Meeting - Jan 8-12
Location: Austin, Texas
ExoClimes 2012: the Diversity of Planetary Atmospheres - Jan 16-20
Location: Aspen, Colorado
Planets Around Stellar Remnants - Jan 23-27
Location: Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico
Science with a Wide-field Infrared Telescope in Space and The 16th International Conference on Gravitational Microlensing - Feb 13-17
Location: Pasadena, California
Observing Planetary Systems II - March 5-8
Location: Santiago de Chile, ESO headquarters
STFC graduate course: Exoplanets and their host stars - March 12-16
Location: St. Anne's College, Oxford, UK
From Atoms to Pebbles: Herschel's View of Star and Planet Formation - March 20-23
Location: Grenoble, France

PLANETFINDING
IN THE NEWS

July 28, 2011
Trojan asteroid seen in Earth's orbit by Wise telescope
TIME, BBC News
Aug. 3, 2011
Earth may once have had two moons
TIME, BBC News
Aug. 11, 2011
DNA in Space? Biological Building Blocks Found in Meteorites
TIME
Aug. 12, 2011
Darkest exoplanet spotted by astronomers
BBC News, TIME
Aug. 19, 2011
How to Find Planets
CNN
Aug. 21, 2011
A good planet is hard to find
CNN
Aug. 26, 2011
Scientists Discover a Diamond as Big as a Planet
TIME
Sept. 9, 2011
Hidden Worlds: Astronomers Find Invisible Planet 650 Light-Years Away
TIME
Sept. 12, 2011
Fifty new exoplanets discovered
BBC News
36 Light-Years From Here, New Hope for an Earth-Like Planet
CNN, NY Times
Sept. 15, 2011
Nasa's Kepler telescope finds planet orbiting two suns
BBC News CNN, TIME, NY Times

PROGRAM WEBSITES

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