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Issue 6 - April 2012

HEADLINES

  1. Exo-ordinary Times
  2. Numerous Neighbors: Studies Indicate Exoplanets Anything but Uncommon
  3. Exoplanet Technology a Top Target
  4. Kepler's Third Year
  5. WFIRST Update: Budgets and Baselines
  6. Eye for an I: LBT is Interferometry-ready
  7. Cosmic Compedium: NASA Exoplanet Archive Open for Business
  8. The Next Generation of NASA Explorers - 2012 Carl Sagan Exoplanet Fellows
  9. ExEP E/PO Whirlwind!
  10. ExoToon: Hostile Planet

1. Exo-ordinary Times

Photo of Michael Devirian
By Michael Devirian

Dear Exoplaneteers,

The scientific and public face of exoplanets must be beaming. Daily announcements of new findings, characterizations and theories keep the field vibrant; and, the public fascination with what may be out there continues unabated. On March 7, Kepler was awarded the Laureate of the Year award in the Space category by Aviation Week. Exoplanets even made it into Dilbert. However, with the release of the President's FY13 Budget Request, we have also been handed some programmatic surprises. Read More...

2. Numerous Neighbors: Studies Indicate Exoplanets Anything but Uncommon

Photo of Wes Traub
By Wes Traub

For those who haven't tuned in recently, here are some exoplanet news headlines from the last 90 days that most caught our attention:

Three new planet-counting papers appeared since the first of the year. Surprisingly, each of these is moving in the direction of more and more objects out there than we had once thought. First, Cassan et al reported in Nature that microlensing observations suggest that there are, on average, about 1.6 planets per star in the Galaxy. Second, Strigari et al reported their theoretical estimate that there may be up to 100,000 free-floating objects per star ("nomads") in the Galaxy, where each such object is in the mass range from about the Moon to a brown dwarf. Third, Traub reported in the ApJ that his analysis of the first 136 days of Kepler observations suggests, by extrapolation, that about 34% of FGK stars have a terrestrial planet their habitable zone. Read More...

3. Exoplanet Technology a Top Target

By Peter Lawson
Photo of Peter Lawson

The National Research Council recently ranked exoplanet technology amongst NASA's top 16 highest priority technologies. The NRC recommendations, NASA Space Technology Roadmaps and Priorities: Restoring NASA's Technological Edge and Paving the Way for a New Era in Space, was released in early February. High Contrast Imaging and Spectroscopic Technologies were cited as game changing and received the panel's highest score "due to its high scientific value, relevance to multiple NASA science mission areas, and high ratings for risk and reasonableness." Also ranked amongst the top 16 technologies were those of active wavefront sensing & control as well has technologies for large active light-weight mirrors, both captured under the heading of Optical Systems. The NRC report should serve as a reference for future funding decisions within NASA, and in particular its Office of the Chief Technologist. Read More...

4. Kepler's Third Year

By Nick Gautier
Artist concept of Kepler spacecraft.

Kepler is now 3 years old, launched on 6 March 2009. It is operating normally in its 12th quarter of data collection. Quarter 12 will end and Quarter 13 begin at the end of March. Kepler is weathering the recent spate of solar storms with some modest lost of data collection time but no permanent effects on its hardware.

A new list of 2321 planet candidates was published in February (http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.5852). Eleven new planetary systems containing 26 planets were announced as confirmed, bringing the total of Kepler planets to 61. Two of the new planets have circumbinary orbits establishing that double-star worlds are not uncommon. Read More...

5. WFIRST Update: Budgets and Baselines

By Neil Gehrels
WFIRST

The WFIRST mission team is made up of the Project Offices at Goddard and JPL and the community Science Definition Team (wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov/). The team completed a study of an interim design for the mission last year and is now working on completing the baseline design. In addition, a lower-cost configuration is being studied that does not duplicate capabilities of Euclid, LSST and JWST. A lively conference was held in Pasadena in February titled "Science with a Wide-field Infrared Telescope in Space". Prominent astrophysicists gave talks and had discussions in the areas of exoplanets, dark energy and infrared sky surveys. The next meeting will be a WFIRST "meeting-in-a-meeting" at the AAS meeting in Anchorage this June.

6. Eye for an I: LBT is Interferometry-ready

By Rafael Millan-Galbet
LBTI

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI, Principal Investigator Phil Hinz - University of Arizona) continues its commissioning activities. The most recent commissioning run took place on January 21 -24 2011. Unfortunately snow prevented the planned first nulling tests. On the other hand, many crucial closed-dome tests were conducted; for example, the basic functionality of the mid-infrared nulling camera was verified, and on-sky interference tests in L-band (LMIRCam, NSF-funded) and single-telescope aperture masking tests were conducted. The second adaptive optics system has been commissioned, and the observatory is now interferometry-ready! The next commissioning observations will take place in April 2012. Science operations in Nuller mode is expected to start in Fall 2012, beginning with the execution of the exo-zodi characterization Key Science Program, led by P.I. Phil Hinz. The program will include interested members of the exo-planet community via the following call for participation (deadline April 27, 2012): http://nexsci.caltech.edu/missions/LBTI/cfp_keysci.shtml

7. Cosmic Compedium: NASA Exoplanet Archive Open for Business

By Rachel Akeson
Exoplanet Archive Logo

The NASA Exoplanet Archive (exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu) is a service funded by NASA and provided by NExScI to serve the user community working with exoplanet data, primarily transit data from Kepler and CoRoT, by providing long-term data curation and analysis tools. The archive content includes exoplanet and stellar host properties and the most recent Kepler candidate properties in interactive tables. Analysis tools include visualizations of time series data, periodogram calculations for both archive and user-supplied data and transit ephemeris predictions.

A web tool to facilitate community follow-up observing of Kepler candidates is also available at cfop.ipac.caltech.edu/.

8. The Next Generation of NASA Explorers - 2012 Carl Sagan Exoplanet Fellows

By Carolyn Brinkworth
Sagan Fellows

The 2012 Sagan Exoplanet Fellowship results are out, and we extend our warm congratulations to the 6 recipients:


Sarah Ballard, who will work at the University of Washington to investigate exoplanetary habitability by characterizing the smallest Kepler-planet candidate parent stars.

Jean-Michel Desert, who will work at Caltech to explore the atmospheres of planets in multiple planet systems and low-mass planets in the habitable zones of their parent stars.

Catherine Espaillat, who will work at the Harvard Smithsonian Center to find the youngest extrasolar systems by looking for gaps in dusty disks around the parent stars.

Nikole Lewis, who will work at MIT to study the chemistry of exoplanet atmospheres by linking 3-D chemical, dynamical and radiative processes.

Rebecca Martin, who will work at the University of Colorado to better understand the formation and survival of exoplanetary systems.

Christian Schwab, who will work at Yale to design a new high precision instrument to detect and characterize Earth-like planets.

Many congratulations to all of you! We'll be giving them some time to settle in, but their work will be featured in this newsletter in later editions.

9. ExEP E/PO Whirlwind!

By Anya Biferno

In the coming months ExEP E/PO will be appearing at several events nationwide. We're working to bring the story of exoplanet exploration to the public, and we hope to see you there!

March 24th San Diego Science Festival at Petco Park - estimated attendance: 50,000

April 27-29 USA Science and Engineering Festival, Washington D.C. - estimated attendance: 100,000

April 28th Astronomy Night on the Mall, Washington D.C. - estimated attendance 5,000

May 11th New Worlds Astronomy Day, Santa Clarita, CA - estimated 800 7th grade students

June 9-10 JPL Open House, Pasadena, CA - estimated 30,000 attendance

June 11-14 AAS Summer Meeting, Anchorage, AK - unified Exoplanet Program booth

June 12 AAS Student Day, Anchorage, AK - estimated 700 middle and high school summer students

10. ExoToon

This Issue's Comic

Think you can do better than our Exoplanet cartoon? We're accepting contributions! Please send your cartoons in pdf format, to newworldsnews@ipac.caltech.edu. The best submission received by June 1 2012 will feature in the next edition of the Newsletter. Selection will be done by a very non-expert committee, comprised of anyone within 30ft of the editor's office on June 2. By submitting your work, you are giving us permission to use your cartoon (with credits) for any future edition of the NASA New Worlds News Newsletter. Please remember that, once emailed out to the mailing list, we have no control over what anyone else chooses to do with your work.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program Office: Michael Devirian, Wesley Traub.
Editor: Carolyn Brinkworth, NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, newworldsnews@ipac.caltech.edu.
Cartoonist: Randal Jackson, Martin Davidian (JPL)
Written Contributions: Michael Devirian, JPL; Wesley Traub, Peter Lawson, JPL; Rachel Akeson, NExScI; Carolyn Brinkworth, NExScI; JPL; Neil Gehrels, Goddard Space Flight Center; Rafael Millan-Gabet, JPL; Nick Gautier, JPL; Anya Biferno, JPL
Design and Technical Support: Michael Greene, JPL; Randal Jackson, JPL; Joshua Rodriguez, JPL; Raytheon Web Solutions.
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EVENTS

Calibration and Standardization of Missions and Large Surveys in Astronomy and Astrophysics - April 16-19
Location: Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois
Transiting Planets in the House of the Sun - June 3-6
Location: Maui, HI
AAS 220th. Meeting - June 10-14
Location: Anchorage, AK
The origins of Stars and Planetary Systems - June 10-15
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
17th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems and the Sun - June 24-29
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Nordic-NASA summer school "Water, Ice and the Origin of Life in the Universe" - July 2-15
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
Characterizing & Modeling Extrasolar Planetary Atmospheres - Theory & Observation - July 16-20
Location: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy Heidelberg, Germany
2012 Sagan Summer Workshop: Working with Exoplanet Light Curves - July 23-27
Location: Pasadena, CA
IAUS 293: Formation, Detection, and Characterization of Extrasolar Habitable Planets - Aug. 27-31
Location: Beijing,China Nanjing
Planet Formation and Evolution 2012 - September 3-7
Location: Munich, Germany , Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat
Instabilities and Structures in Protoplanetary Disks - September 17-20
Location: Marseille, France

EXOPLANETS
IN THE NEWS

Jan 12, 2012
More planets than stars?
BBC News, BBC News, CNN, TIME
Jan 13, 2012
Forget exoplanets: the hunt for exomoons is heating up
TIME
Jan. 15, 2012
Volunteers wanted for planet hunt
BBC News
Jan. 18, 2012
Stargazing viewer in planet coup
BBC News, BBC News
Jan. 26, 2012
Kepler confirms 26 more planets
CNN
Feb. 3, 2012
New planet found: could a super-Earth plus triple stars equal life?
TIME
Feb. 21, 2012
Distant ‘water-world’ confirmed
BBC News
Feb. 24, 2012
A little Neptune suggests big things
TIME
Feb. 29, 2012
How a telescope with sunglases may find E.T.
TIME
March 19, 2012
Puzzles of our cosmic neighbourhood
BBC News
March 20, 2012
Surprise! Astronomers spot life on Earth - and why that’s news.
TIME
March 23, 2012
Say hello to an extraterrestrial ocean - and maybe extraterrestrial life
TIME
March 26, 2012
Cosmic Loners: orphan stars and planets wander the galaxy
TIME
March 28, 2012
Super-Earths 'in the billions'
BBC News

PROGRAM WEBSITES

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