President Speaks on Exoplanets: “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.
NASA’s plans for the WFIRST mission, in addition to probing dark energy and surveying the skies in IR, will extend our knowledge of exoplanet populations through microlensing observations of our galaxy. The WFIRST SDT has been appointed and by now has held its second meeting March 10-11. The SDT is charged to develop a reference mission by the end of 2012.
Looking ahead to an exoplanet direct imaging mission, ExoPAG is forming a new Science Analysis Group (http://exep.jpl.nasa.gov/exopag/) to define science requirements and mission scope in preparation for funded mission studies beginning in 2013, leading to review by a National Academy committee in 2015. ExoPAG will hold its next meeting June 1-2 in Alexandria, VA.
A critical part of preparing for the future direct imaging mission will be development of the enabling technologies. ExEP supports this through the Technology Development for Exoplanet Missions (TDEM) program that features research opportunities for the community. Proposals for the next round were due 3/25/2011.
Finally, while the NASA budget won’t afford all the exoplanet mission ideas we have in the next decade, the President’s 2012 budget request does address an important recommendation of the Astro2010 Decadal Survey by establishing the Astrophysics Explorer mission line at a level that would support four explorer missions and four missions of opportunity by the end of the decade. Get ready to propose your excellent ideas for exoplanet explorers in such areas as exozodiacal measurements, giant plant transit surveys, etc.
Manager, Exoplanet Exploration Program