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June 13, 2010

How much do you know about the new field of exoplanets?  If you’re like me, you may have heard about the chase to discover new planets, followed the development of the Kepler mission, or nodded along as announcement after announcement came out over the last few years — but if you haven’t really looked into the physics of the different planet detection techniques, you might find it really satisfying.

I was taught about planet detection shortly after I came to NASA Headquarters in 2001, during a peer review, when I witnessed leading scientists have a spirited argument about the relative merits of the then-established Doppler method of detection versus a new coronograph technique.  Listening to these men argue passionately about their science — a science I knew nothing about — was incredible, and I was hooked.  Although I didn’t change my work, I did gain an appreciation for this emerging field.

Last December, I sat down with Sara Seager, a participating scientist on the Kepler mission, and asked her about her work in the new field of exoplanets, and how being selected as a participating scientist would help her further her own work in the field.

I’ll post excerpts of her interview as soon as I get her approval, but in the meantime, here’s a review paper on the search for exoplanets, published last spring in Physics World.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. sutari permalink
    June 22, 2010 6:17 pm

    I am all for letting the data get out to the world as soon as feasible (assuming it is either properly calibrated or the tools for doing so are available too). The “good old days” of sitting on the data for months and years and entitling only part of the community was not a good thing.

    HOWEVER, I have had friends who have worked missions. If you are lucky enough to be working a mission that has a long data collection period (think an orbiter versus, oh, Deep Impact) then you are insanely busy EVERY SINGLE DAY running the spacecraft, writing the next observation sequence codes, testing them, driving the rover, whatever. This has gotten “worse” rather than better, as teams are smaller and true “skunk works” are done that don’t have huge teams of non-scientists running the spacecraft. When do you possibly have time to take advantage of this fabulous new data that you have just devoted a significant chunk of your life ensuring would come to fruition? I was a grad student during Magellan. We talked about the fire hose of data. TONS of it. EVERY SINGLE DAY. We DID do some science. But it was quick and dirty and very top level and all there was time for.

    I think that science teams, especially on “PI-led” missions like Kepler, deserve some amount of time with limited access to the data. People don’t get tenure for being a Co-I. They get tenure for authoring papers.

  2. June 19, 2010 10:52 am

    Right! I’m really interested in this too — reminds me of the “proprietary data period” which we’ve struggled with in our own planetary science community.

    What do you guys think?

  3. Interplanetsarah permalink
    June 15, 2010 11:52 am

    Speaking of Kepler, there are a couple really interesting articles that just came out in Nature and the NYTimes this week discussing the release of Kepler data:

    While some of the data will soon be released, some is being held back (the 400 best candidates for new planets) to give the team more time to analyze the best data, a decision by the NAC Astrophysics Subcommittee which is not sitting well with some parts of the community.

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