The growing interest in exoplanet science was fully evident at the January AAS in Long Beach: exoplanets were the subject of 3 prize lectures, one plenary lecture, and several sessions and posters. One of the new products on show at the meeting was ExEP’s “Eyes on Exoplanets” - if you haven’t yet checked it out, don’t miss it! It’s a great way to visualize the discoveries to date. http://eyes.jpl.nasa.gov/exoplanets/.
Current efforts within the Exoplanet Exploration Program are designed to advance both near and long-term exoplanet science. The Kepler Mission continues to collect troves of data, and the project has now released data through Quarter 14 to the public; we are looking forward to the 2013 Kepler follow-up season and to the discoveries that will surely follow.
The NASA Astrophysics Division implementation plan calls for the development of probe-scale direct-imaging design reference missions by early 2015. Two Science and Technology Definition Teams (STDTs), whose membership will be announced during April, will produce two design reference missions: one for an internal coronagraph, and another for a formation-flying telescope and external occulter (starshade).
The Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (AFTA) Science Definition Team (SDT) will complete a study this month for the use of the 2.4-meter telescope assets for advancing the science of WFIRST which includes a microlensing survey of exoplanets and an optional coronagraph for direct-imaging of gas and ice giants in nearby star systems. Additionally, the Exoplanet Program Office joined with 50 contributors in proposing the Exoplanet Observatory (ExO) concept to the Study on Applications of Large Space Optics (SALSO) to image and characterize exoplanets of our nearest neighbors. Although the funding for any further study has been deferred, ExO was one of the final seven concepts selected from a field of several dozen. The Program continues to develop and competitively fund the technology necessary to enable the long-term goal of the direct imaging and characterization of terrestrial planets orbiting our nearest neighbors.
ExoPAG-8, as originally planned for June 1-2 prior to the IAU, is cancelled due the effects of sequestration budget cuts on NASA-funded travel. To keep this important work moving forward in spite of the restriction, the ExoPAG is developing alternate plans and will communicate those shortly to our community. ExoPAG meetings are open to the entire scientific community, and offer an opportunity to participate in discussions of scientific and technical issues in exoplanet exploration, and to provide input into NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP). All interested members of the astronomical and planetary science communities are invited to attend and participate. The Exoplanet Exploration Program looks forward to working with you through the upcoming exoplanet Science and Technology Definition Teams (STDTs) and other professional forums.