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Issue 8 - October 2012


  1. Fall Change for the ExEP Program
  2. Double Double Toil and …Terrific Results
  3. 118 and Counting: Kepler Action to Reaction
  4. Monsoon Clears, LBTI Nears
  5. First WFIRST Study in Bag, Time to Tackle Telescopes
  6. No Trouble with the Curve: 173 Attend Sagan Confab
  7. Sagan Fellows Dish on Exoplanet Research
  8. Kepler Bearing down on Elusive ExoMoons
  9. Chasing Exo Spectra from the Ground
  10. New 3D Viz Tool Coming to a Computer Near You
  11. ExoToon: The Exoplanet League of Justice

1. Fall Change for the ExEP Program

Photo of Peter Lawson
By Peter Lawson

Over the summer, changes have been underway within the Exoplanet Program and throughout NASA's Astrophysics division. Shortly after the last Newsletter appeared, Mike Devirian retired as ExEP Program Manager. At the time of writing, the prospective candidates for Mike's position are being interviewed, and you can look forward to a permanent replacement being announced in the very near future. At NASA HQ there are changes as well... Read More

2. Double Double Toil and …Terrific Results

Photo of Wes Traub
By Wes Traub and Steve Unwin

Sadly, we start our update this quarter with the news that David Koch, Deputy PI for Kepler, passed away on 12 September, from complications of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, at his home in Milwaukee. Many of the qualities that make the Kepler mission such a success are due to Dave's foresight and diligence. We send our sincere condolences to his family and friends - he will be missed.

Turning to future mission planning, the excitement over the 2.4-m telescopes recently donated to NASA was made evident at a 3-day meeting at Princeton University, hosted by David Spergel, devoted to an 2.4-m WFIRST configuration, including a coronagraph option (as requested by NASA HQ). Read More...

3. 118 and Counting: Kepler Action to Reaction

By Nick Gautier
Artist concept of Kepler spacecraft.

As Kepler begins it extended mission on 1 October 2012, the rate of public data release will ramp up. On 28 July, Kepler released quarter 7 thru quarter 9 data to the MAST archives. On 28 Oct 2012, the final proprietary exoplanet survey data will be released to the public. Subsequently all exoplanet survey data will be released to the public immediately upon completion of pipeline processing and verification. Science data for quarter 13 has been downloaded and processing of quarter 13 will commence in September. Read More...

4. Monsoon Clears, LBTI Nears

By Rafael Millan-Gabet

As the Arizona Monsoon season ends, the Large Binocular Telescope (LBTI, Principal Investigator Phil Hinz - University of Arizona) gets ready to resume commissioning activities and, in parallel, start shared risk exozodi key science. The next two observing runs are scheduled for late September and late October. Over the Summer shutdown, the team worked hard on instrument improvements and testing, both hardware and software. Most notably, the near-infrared phase sensor system was tested and is ready to be used on the sky. In late July, a "proof-of-concept" version of the LBTI archive at NExScI was delivered. In mid-September, the LBTI project held an instrument status review, as well as the first meeting of the newly selected exozodi key science team.

5. First WFIRST Study in Bag, Time to Tackle Telescope

By Steve Howell and Neil Gehrels

Hurray! The 2-year study of WFIRST is complete. It was presented to NASA HQ this summer and is now posted on astro-ph. The study was performed by the Project Offices at Goddard and JPL and the community Science Definition Team ( It includes two concepts call Design Reference Mission (DRM)1 and DRM2, with DRM1 more capable and DRM2 lower cost and not duplicating capabilities of Euclid, LSST and JWST. DRM1 meets all of the requirements dictated by the Decadal Survey for WFIRST in its 5-year mission. DRM2 meets a subset of requirements in its 3-year mission, but could cover all of them in an extended operations phase.

The next step for WFIRST will be to study a version of the mission utilizing one of two 2.4m telescopes recently donated to NASA. A NASA HQ call is going out to form a new SDT for this rapid 6-month study.

6. No Trouble with the Curve: 173 Attend Sagan Confab

By Dawn Gelino

NExScI hosted the very successful 2012 Sagan Summer Workshop, "Working with Exoplanet Light Curves", July 22-27 on the Caltech campus. There were 173 registrants in attendance from 26 different countries for this, the 14th and by far the largest of, the Sagan/Michelson Workshops. In addition to several interactive workshop features, NExScI ran several hands-on sessions dealing with public Kepler data using the Amazon Web Cloud Computing Services. This is the first time that the Amazon Cloud has ever been used in this capacity, so it marks a very big achievement for NExScI as well as for cloud computing! Written feedback from about 100 of the workshop attendees and speakers was universally positive. Video and audio recordings of the presentations will be available soon; in the meantime, slides from the invited and contributed presentations, as well as contributed electronic posters, are currently available from the workshop website:

7. Sagan Fellows Dish on Exoplanet Research

By Carolyn Brinkworth

Every issue, we run updates from a couple of our current Sagan Fellows (see below for highlights from David Kipping and Bryce Croll). If you like what you've been reading and want to know more, we have a great opportunity for you! The Sagan/Michelson Fellows Symposium will be held at Caltech on November 8-9th, featuring talks from current and past Sagan and Michelson Fellows, highlighting their cutting-edge exoplanet research. Registration is now open at the symposium website linked above, and is free to all. If you have any questions, please email the NExScI team at

8. Kepler Bearing down on Elusive ExoMoons

By David Kipping
Photo of David Kipping

It seems every week we hear about the amazing Kepler Mission detecting another incredible first, be it a sub-Earth sized planet, or a circumbinary world or even recently a disintegrating gas giant. One of the big "firsts" still evading us is an exomoon, which is what I spend my Sagan fellowship working on. In my first year as a Sagan fellow I've been working hard at setting up the "Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler" project ( See for our recent Science paper on a detection of the first non-transiting planet via transit timing variations (sadly not a moon!). We're looking forward to sharing more exciting systems soon, so stayed tuned.

9. Chasing Exo Spectra from the Ground

By Bryce Croll
Photo of Bryce Croll

Much of the press and the intrigue arising from exoplanet research in the past few years has involved the quest to discover and characterize ever smaller exoplanets, ever closer to smack dab in the middle of the habitable zone. However, even once we've discovered one of these worlds, it is largely an unanswered question whether astronomers will be able to achieve the photometric precision required to detect or rule out biomarkers and signs of life in its atmosphere. Although space telescopes will be undeniably crucial to characterizing the atmospheres of these planets, it will arguably always be cheaper and quicker to utilize telescopes on the ground - if, that is we are able to overcome the systematic errors limiting our precision that often frustrates work from the ground. My research involves achieving precise near-infrared observations from the ground in the near-infrared to characterize the atmospheres of larger exoplanets -- everything from the thermal emission of massive hot Jupiters (see here and here), to the spectra and thus the kind of atmosphere enveloping a small, super-Earth -- and thereby developing the techniques that may be applicable to searching for biomarkers in the atmospheres of pale, blue dots other than our own.

10. New 3D Viz Tool Coming to a Computer Near You

By Randal Jackson
Eyes on the Exoplanets

The Exoplanet Exploration Program outreach team has spent this past summer developing "Eyes on Exoplanets," a 3D visualization tool for exploring all 809 exoplanets so far discovered. Based on the Unity3D game engine, this visually stunning database is searchable and continually updated and includes interactive 3D models of every exoplanetary system and host star, along with distance scales, habitable zone overlays, and tools for comparisons with our own solar system. There's also a search engine, and the data pipeline is delivered through NASA's own Exoplanet Archive. "Eyes on Exoplanets" is currently in beta testing phase, and will be available to the public, educators and scientists this fall through the PlanetQuest website (no plugin required!).

11. ExoToon: The Exoplanet League of Justice

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 The best submission received by December 3, 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 December 5. 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: Peter Lawson, Wesley Traub.
Editor: Carolyn Brinkworth, NASA Exoplanet Science Institute,
Cartoonist: Stephen Kane, IPAC
Written Contributions: Wesley Traub, JPL; Steve Unwin, JPL; Peter Lawson, JPL; Dawn Gelino, NExScI; Carolyn Brinkworth, NExScI; Neil Gehrels, Goddard Space Flight Center; Rafael Millan-Gabet, JPL; Nick Gautier, JPL; Bryce Croll, MIT; David Kipping, Harvard University
Design and Technical Support: Michael Greene, JPL; Randal Jackson, JPL; Joshua Rodriguez, JPL; Raytheon Web Solutions.
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Division for Planetary Sciences Annual Meeting - October 14-19
Location: Reno, Nevada
Science from the Next Generation Imaging and Spectroscopic Surveys - October 15-18
Location: Garching, Germany
COSPAR Building Workshop on Infrared and Submillimetre Astronomy - October 15-26
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Gaia and exoplanets: GREAT Synergies on the Horizon - November 5-7
Location: Torino, Italy
Sagan/Michelson Fellows Symposium - November 8-9
Location: Pasadena, CA
AAS Winter Meeting - January 6-10
Location: Long Beach, California
Exoplanets in Multi-body Systems in the Kepler Era - February 9-16
Location: Aspen, Colorado
From Stars to Life: Connecting our understanding of star formation, planet formation, astrochemistry and astrobiology - April 3-6
Location: Gainesville, FL
Ice and Planet Formation - May 15-17
Location: Lund Observatory, Sweden


June 14, 2012
Star Lite: You don't need heavy metals to build a good planet
June 21, 2012
Alien planets Kepler-36b, Kepler 36-c so close together they see "planetrise"
June 28, 2012
A somber warning from outer space
BBC News
July 11, 2012
Hubble discovers new Pluto moon
BBC News, NY Times
July 18, 2012
"Lava" alien planet UCF-1.01, Smaller than Earth, seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope
July 27, 2012
Starstruck: three little exoplanets all in a row
July 28, 2012
A home from home: Five planets that could host life
BBC News
August 20, 2012
A planet "just right" for life? Perhaps, if it exists
NY Times
August 21, 2012
Star is caught devouring planet
BBC News

41 alien planets found by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope
August 29, 2012
Tatooine-like double-star systems can host planets
Sept. 10, 2012
More planets could harbour life
BBC News
Sept. 21, 2012
Starry nights were never like this


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