Issue 6 - April 2012
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...
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 TargetBy 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 YearBy Nick Gautier
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 BaselinesBy Neil Gehrels
The WFIRST mission team is made up of the Project Offices at Goddard and JPL and the community Science Definition Team ( http://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. Community Call-age: NExScI's KepCon Follow-upBy Rafael Millan-Galbet
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. NASA Exoplanet ArchiveBy Rachel Akeson
The NASA Exoplanet Archive is a service is 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 will be released in April. The service is available at exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu and comments or questions can be sent to email@example.com.
8. The Next Generation of NASA Explorers - 2012 Carl Sagan Exoplanet FellowsBy Carolyn Brinkworth
The 2012 Sagan Exoplanet Fellowship results are out, and we extend our warm congratulations to the 6 recipients:
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!
Think you can do better than our Exoplanet cartoon? We're accepting contributions! Please send your cartoons in pdf format, to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program Office: Michael Devirian, Wesley Traub.
Editor: Carolyn Brinkworth, NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, email@example.com.
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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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
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