The past few months have been very busy in the Exoplanet Exploration Program! Kepler released all data up to Quarter 13 to the public, with over a half-million light curves and target pixel files available to the general astronomical community. Kepler also began a four-year extended mission to complete the determination of the frequency of Earth-like planets in our corner of the galaxy. The WFIRST/AFTA Science Definition Team held its first face-to-face meeting to study how the 2.4-meter telescopes, recently transferred to NASA, can be used to achieve the WFIRST science, which includes microlensing detection of exoplanets, and an optional coronograph instrument for direct exoplanet detection. The LBTI project conducted several nights of successful commissioning work and achieved on-sky nulling and closed loop tip/tilt operation; when operational, LBTI will teach us about exozodiacal dust in neighboring planetary systems at unprecedented levels of accuracy. Technology milestones continue to be met and surpassed for starlight suppression using the High Contrast Imaging Testbed.
The past couple of months have also been busy for me personally: as the new NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Manager, it has been a delight to meet many of you and learn about the emerging discoveries, technologies, and plans in our expanding field. During my first week I had the pleasure of attending the Sagan Fellows workshop held at Caltech / NExScI, and was impressed by the intelligence and enthusiasm of the newest members of our growing exoplanet professional community. I look forward to meeting many of you at the AAS and upcoming events around the country.
Looking ahead, we have much to do, and it’s worth it: the science of Exoplanet Exploration is very compelling, both professionally and personally. The Exoplanet Exploration Program is here to serve this science and to develop and implement the projects and technologies to achieve the short- and long-term science goals. My personal hope is that when the next great exoplanet discoveries are made, the historians will attribute that success in part to what this program and our community did over the next years, and in particular what we did this coming year. So there’s no time to lose – let’s make it happen. I look forward to working with each of you!
Gary Blackwood, Manager, Exoplanet Exploration Program Office