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AAS Meeting in Long Beach California


Tomorrow I’m heading to sunny southern California.  I’m heading to the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) 221st meeting  in Long Beach, California. Right before the meeting in Long Beach on January 5th and 6th,  I will also be attending the National Science Foundation’s Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellows Symposium. At both I’ll be talking about Planet Hunters. Also Stuart Lynn from the Adler Planetarium and the Zooniverse development team, one of the chief architects behind Planet Hunters, is going to be at the NSF symposium as well. Stuart’s going to be participating in the Novel Approaches to Public Outreach panel. I’m sure he’ll be talking all things Planet Hunters and Zooniverse at the symposium. Science team member Kevin Schawinski will also be attending the AAS meeting as well.

I’m giving my AAS talk on January 9th in the morning exoplanet session. My title is  Planet Hunters in the Kepler Extended Mission. I’ll be talking about the discovery of PH1 and where the project is moving in the Kepler extended mission in addition to presenting  some of new preliminary results from the science team. If you’re on twitter you can follow the conference live. Many of the astronomers attending (including me) will be using #AAS221 and for the NSF Symposium we’ll be using #AAPF13

Poster for the Kavli Frontiers of Science Japanese-American Symposium

I’m attending the Kavli Frontiers of Science 13th Japanese-American Symposium in Irvine, California  this weekend. I’m going to present a poster on Planet Hunters to a mix of scientists from all different backgrounds. I thought I’d share the poster I’ll be bringing with me showing the current highlights from the project.

Q7, DPS, and more

Just a quick note to say that we’ve uploaded Q7 light curves. This is the first of the latest Kepler Quarters from the July 2012 data release. As with each new Quarter, there is a new chance to spot never before seen planets. In other news, I write this post in Denver, Colorado on my way to Reno, Nevada for the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting which starts on Monday. This is one of  the largest yearly gatherings of planetary scientists each year. I’ll be giving a talk on Planet Hunters science results.  Last year I gave a talk introducing the project and presenting our first two planet candidates that we had found and preliminary results from my short period planet analysis. I can’t wait to share our results with you. So keep a look out on this space, Facebook, and Twitter for updates about the meeting and my presentation. In the meantime why not classify a light curve or two?

Mind the Gap

As I write this, I’m sitting on a train from London in the middle of the English countryside bound for Oxford. I’ll be spending the next week at the Zooniverse’s Oxford headquarters visiting Chris. I’ll  be working and thinking about all things exoplanets and Planet Hunters.

Close to this time last year I visited Oxford for a weeklong visit after the AAS Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) Meeting in Nantes, France. Chris and I were working on finalizing and interpretting the first go through of the weighting scheme and Round 2 review and planning in the short term where Planet Hunters was heading. During that week, sitting in the Royal Oak (the pub where it all started in some sense – it’s the place where the idea for Galaxy Zoo was born), Chris and I, over a pint, outlined and planned what would become my short period planets paper. The project has made alot of progress since then, and we couldn’t do it without the contributions from all of you who make it possible with your classifications on the main site and efforts on Talk. Planet Hunters has 3 scientific papers now published or soon to be pubished in astronomical journals (Chris’s Quarter 2 planet candidates paper was recently accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal last week).

There’s lot to do this week and plan for especially with Kepler’s extended mission and the start of Kepler data being released every 3 months once the Quarter is complete come November. (More on that to come in November/December as we get closer to the extended mission.) This week, I’ll be showing Chris some of the research I’ve been doing over the summer, and we’ll plan the next few papers we aim to write. I’ve been working on improving the scheme I developed for Quarter 1 to identify transits by combining your classifications, and I’ve started applying it to Quarters 3,4, and 5. This summer also included some follow-up work on a few of our planet candidates we’ve identified in the past 6 months, though the results aren’t quite finished yet. My collaborators and I are still working hard on that, and I’ll share the results once they’re ready and we’re confident in them.  I’ll be presenting the results from this work and what Chris and I get accomplished this week in Reno, Nevada at this year’s DPS meeting in October. My abstract was accepted and I’m scheduled to give a talk on the first day of the conference.


Today’s guest blog is from Adrian Price-Whelan. Adrian is a graduate student at Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy. As a former research scientist with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), Adrian became interested in large survey science and statistical inference in large data sets. He is currently working on projects in time-domain astrophysics using data from the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF), but is interested in a constantly-growing list of astrophysical topics that incorporate theory, observation, and instrumentation. Outside of research, Adrian enjoys playing and writing music, programming, teaching, and bicycling around Manhattan.

Imagine yourself as a new user on Planet Hunters. You’re just starting to get familiar with the data when you come across a light curve with some features you don’t recognize. It doesn’t look like a transit, but it definitely isn’t noise — what is it? Enter Zoonibot!

Zoonibot was conceived as a sort-of “Planet Hunters butler,” for Talk able and ready to automatically answer questions and provide detail when users request information. It all started at the .Astronomy 4 conference in Heidelberg after just a few hours of planning, and after spending the rest of the day (and night!) writing code, Zoonibot could perform 2 functions! 1) He is able to respond to users who request help by commenting with a #help hashtag and 2) he can cross-reference sources flagged as “transit” or “planet” to see if they are actually known eclipsing binaries.

But our ideas didn’t stop there! One idea for some more advanced behavior is to build in some data analysis tools. Consider an example — given the case above, let’s say you comment on your mystery object with a question: “What is this object #zoonibot? #help!”. The hash tags tell Zoonibot that someone needs him! In this example, Zoonibot could do some simple data analysis with the light curve data and try to classify the type of variability, producing an automated response to the user with his interpretation of the data.

We will certainly provide another update when there is more to tell about the life of Zoonibot!

– Adrian Price-Whelan, Chris Beaumont,Gabe Perez-Giz, Chris Lintott, David Hogg, Meg Schwamb.

History of Zoonibot July 10 2012

Drawing of Zoonibot provided courtesy of our PH Talk Moderator echo-lily-mai’s daughter

Sagan Exoplanet Summer Workshop

Greetings from sunny warm southern California. I’ve been spending the week at Caltech in Pasadena, CA for the Sagan Exoplanet Summer Workshop. It’s been a full week of talks, tutorials, and hands-on session on the latest on transit light curves both in science results and analysis. There are about ~140 people mainly postdocs and graduate students who are working on or are interested in getting into studying exoplanets. The talks are geared for new people in the field with researchers in a variety of related subject areas talking about open questions and surveying where the topic currently is.

All the talk slides are online if you’re interested in seeing what’s been discussed. Also, the talks are being recorded and eventually will be posted online. There were also electronic posters (I submitted one for Planet Hunters) which you can peruse here and here. Also many of the participants gave POP talks which were short 2 minute talks which I think gave a great sense of the wide variety of people in attendance. I gave one trying to highlight everything we’ve done so far in the project is 2 minutes (it was tough to boil all of it down to 2 minutes).

It’s been nice to be back at Caltech where I went to grad school, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about different tools and techniques written to fit transits, estimate masses of planets from transit timing variations in the light curve, and  process and analyze Kepler light curves (PyKE). Today is the last day of talks. I’m a bit sad to leave to the warm California sun, but I’m keen to bring the tips and tricks I’ve learned this week back to New Haven and apply them to the analysis of the Planet Hunters data.


Awesome People: More from ZooCon1

Today we have a guest post by Jules, fellow Planet Hunter and zooite who attended the ZooCon1. Jules is a lead moderator and blogger for the Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo forums as well as a volunteer on the Zooniverse Advisory Board.

Just back from the very first #zoocon1 in Chicago. I attended as a volunteer on the Zooniverse Advisory Board. As Meg said it was a chance for the science teams from new projects to meet with and learn from representatives of current projects and for everybody to meet up with Zooniverse techies and developers. It made sense then for some of the “old hands” to present an overview of their own projects. Meg’s Planet Hunters talk was particularly interesting as it highlighted the value of Talk and the great collaborative work being done there by volunteers.

A brief foray into data reduction showed the kind of work necessary to make the clicks usable. For example, there are 5,508 stars with possible transits. Removing all pulsating stars, which can be mistaken for transits, reduced the number of candidates to 3,404. Further examination of these transits reduced the pool further to 77 transit candidates – a much more manageable number.

Here’s Meg in action demonstrating the light curves of different sized planets.

The discoveries Meg highlighted included a slide showing 4 planet candidates missed by Kepler one of which is being re-investigated because of the work done by Planet Hunters. Kepler 16, the circumbinary system, also got a mention as did the impressive volunteer-led analysis on cataclysmic variables and heartbeat stars.

Old Weather, Mergers and the Milky Way Project were also put in the spotlight. Afterwards someone from one of the new projects told me how amazed they were that volunteers would want to do more than just click and another told me that they found the Planet Hunters story particularly inspiring and wanted to know how Planet Hunters had attracted these “awesome people.”

Well that’s Citizen Science for you. Volunteers come with a great mix of interests, skills and the knack of finding treasure!

Zooniverse Science Conference

Image credit: Michael Parrish

Greetings from Adler Planetarium in Chicago. I’m at the first Zooniverse Science Conference. I’m here representing the Planet Hunters science team.  At this conference science teams from the current and upcoming Zooniverse projects and the Zooniverse development team have gathered together to talk citizen science.  It’s been a great two days of  presented talks and discussions. This is the first time that teams from across the Zooniverse projects have come together. I’ve really enjoyed talking to the scientists from the different projects, and what I’ve been really impressed with is the cool and wide-ranging science that is being done in the Zooniverse.  I’ve been hearing about the exciting future projects and new tools and features the Zooniverse is working on. This morning I shared the highlights from Planet Hunters and how I’m going from clicks to planet candidates.  It was great to highlight all the science we’ve done and will be doing in the future with your classifications on Planet Hunters. I focused on my search for short period planets from the Quarter 1 classifications (on a side note – I got a response from the referee for my paper. I’ve revised the manuscript and the paper is back with the referee. Hopefully soon it will be accepted for publication by the Journal).



A Good Start to 2012

Happy New Year and Happy 2012 Everyone –

We’ve got lots in store for 2012. I wanted to give you a quick update on what the team’s been up to. We’re still notifying winners of the Anniversary Competition and  waiting to hear back from some of the winners. So we’ll announce the remaining winners soon. We hope to start mailing prizes in a couple of weeks once I’m back from travel and conferences.

January is turning out to be a busy month.We’ve got papers in the works, including my short period planet analysis paper from all your classifications from Q1. I hope to have a finished draft in the next few weeks. Watch this space to hear more about the papers in the upcoming weeks as we ready them for journal submission.

Next week is the American Astronomical Society‘s annual winter meeting. This year the meeting will be held in Austin, Texas. Chris, Kevin, and I will be attending the meeting with mugs of garcinia cambogia coffee in hand. If you’re interested in following the news from the conference on twitter – you can follow Chris, Kevin, and I (@chrislintott , @kevinschawinski ,and @megschwamb ) and the twitter hashtag #AAS219 . We’ll also be tweeting from the @planethunters account as well.

Chris will be talking about the latest Planet Hunters results on Monday in the  Exoplanets: New Surveys session. The talks are short, only 5 minutes to speak and show slides with a few minutes for questions. So we’ll be showing just the latest science highlights from the project. Kevin and I will also be giving talks on other unrelated projects we’ve been working on. I’ll be talking about my  survey to search the southern skies for large Kuiper belt objects, but I’ll also be giving a talk on Planet Hunters next week but not at the AAS. The annual symposium for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellows is right before the AAS meeting in Austin. My symposium talk on Sunday will be about Planet Hunters.

Also up next, is the next data release. With the accelerated data release schedule from the Kepler team, we’re going to get not just one quarter but 3! Quarters 4,5,and 6 are scheduled right now to be released this weekend. That’s about 1.25 years worth of Kepler data (Quarters 1-6)  in total will be in the public archive. I’m excited to see what unknown planets may be lurking there just waiting to be found. We’ll keep you updated on the process of the upload and when the data will be available on the site.

A good start to 2012 indeed,


Kepler Science Conference Part 5

Today’s  blog is a guest post  by fellow Planet Hunter and frequent contributor on PH Talk, Daryll (nighthawk_black)  who also attended the Kepler Science conference. This is Part 2 of a two part blog post summarizing the Kepler Science Conference sessions. You can find lots more of his pictures chronicling the conference here.


  • Another PH favorite topic of discussion was covered here with exomoon theory and some possible findings, see more here  by Darren Williams. Will we find an Earth sized exoplanet with an Earth sized exomoon, orbiting a massive gas giant or brown dwarf–in a circumbinary system..?
  • Also promising was a talk on possible detection of strange and exotic phenomenon distinct from ‘standard’ transits by Benjamin Bromley. Across such a diversity of planetary systems, I’m confident there are some intriguing finds we’ve yet to realize or recognize; some possibly in cataclysmic systems.
  • This session concluded with a lunchtime presentation by Martin Still and Tom Barclay about the revised KGO software package PyKE, includes tools for dealing with possible contamination and other flux related issues that come up when doing analysis of FITS data. I highly recommend any of you Planethunters that are interested in that sort of thing to mosey over to this website and take a look, feedback is welcome and encouraged!


  • Sara Seager led off this session and went into giant exoplanet atmospheres. It’s amazing how much we can detect–even if sometimes circumstantial–about an object that 99% of the time we are only inferring the presence of and not resolving visually.  Similar such tactics obviously have diminishing returns when applied to the sub-Neptunes and Super-Earths, but not unfeasible. This sort of research will lay the groundwork for later studies that will surely make use of more advanced orbiting instruments that follow Kepler. Sara also held a public forum on the exoplanet hunt and possibilities for life on Wednesday night, which gave us an excuse to sneak over to the SETI Institute, which is tucked right near NASA-Ames! Lots of very thoughtful and positive comments and questions by the Bay area crowd in attendance.
  • What predominant formation methods produced all these strange star systems?
  • Be watching for an app coming to a market near you: the Kepler Data Visualizer, where you can compose and produce your own exoplanet systems!
  • Expanded details on two bizarre cataloged systems: the badly misaligned Kepler-2b by Josh Carter and KOI-13.01 found orbiting a high-mass fast-rotating star, by Jason Barnes.
  • Are some sub-Neptunes or indeed even some Super-Earths (or MOST?) in fact the evaporated or otherwise badly abused ancient cores of former giant exoplanets?
  • We’ve seen lot’s of ‘hot Jupiters’ so far–what will we have to compare with on an extended mission that will catch additional transits of big bodies at longer periods? Truly, how packed are some of these larger star systems? Is the configuration of our solar system, common, uncommon, or even rare..?
  • Brown Dwarfs. What can I say here? Everything about these objects is mysterious and very cool! I do wonder how many of them or their cousins are out there in the dark between stars…


  • Kicked off by another figure well familiar to many of us by name here at PH in the form of Andrej Prsa of Villanova University, who keeps up the detailed  Kepler Eclipsing Binary Catalog . Of the Kepler EB’s: “This is a gold mine and treasure trove for astrophysics!”
  • Don’t miss discussion in this session of what has been temporarily dubbed ‘The Thing!’! KOI-54 is also worthy of mention here with its eccentricity and powerful tidal pulsations.
  • The EB count appears to grow as one travels towards the galactic center.
  • I learned there are far, far more faint (but somewhat resolvable) stars in the FOV than I ever realized, many of which are not never actively targeted. Properly screening and confirming all these candidate exoplanets is such a monumental task for everyone, and much of it starts right at the pixel level, looking for dirty rotten contaminators!
  • Many cutting edge tools needed to properly analyze and solidly characterize some of the amazing EB’s pouring into the catalogs from Kepler’s eyes have yet to be fully developed and matured, and the community is playing catch up as I write this. The Eclipsing Binary hunt is open season all year, and needs more participants! Identifiny all of the EB’s possible will help everyone vet candidates a little more quickly.
  • Great discussion of the ‘BEER’ method by Prof Tsevi Mazeh for detecting non-eclipsing binary systems. It involves beaming ellipsoidal and reflection effects c/t Kepler light curves and has had solid results so far.


  • ‘Our Sun is Not A Solar-like Star’; this was a line I couldn’t help thinking about several times during these sessions on asteroseismology related topics and the challenge to understand host stars completely when we are still grappling with an incomplete understanding of our own Sun’s. I think it is possible asteroseismology will see the most massive benefit from mission out to 2018 considering the apparent nature of solar cycles. I heard someone mention in the hallway at one break: ‘You can’t truly know your exoplanet until you know its star…” Very true!
  • See talks by Lucianne Walkowicz and Svetlana Berdyugina in this session w/ details and models on starspots. In some cases these seem t/b highly recognizable in light curves, on much larger sizes than what we see on the Sun. Exact rotation data for each host star is understandably incomplete at this time. In my opinion these were two of the more valuable presentations at KSC for both new and old members of the Planethunters project, as this is a form of intrinsic variability that can try and masquerade as more interesting things like transits the odd time–be sure to check it out!
  • Also noteworthy were reviews of LC features we see commonly in the form of stellar flares and apparent outbursts (especially those around G-type stars!) Amazing we can track some of these violent expenditures over long cadence data and not just short–consider the size/duration of the average big publicized SOHO events. Someday, the first of our long legged interstellar probes will need to be well shielded against these if they’re going to venture in for a close reconnaissance!
  • Apologies as I missed several talks in the above sessions so this is incomplete, and of course for any errors, omissions or misinterpretations I’ve left behind in any of the material above.


In my opinion the cost of operating Kepler at 110% until it’s too tired to see anymore is without question worth the astounding potential it holds for all realms of astronomy. Even more amazing things could be done when TESS and Gaia come on line (and perhaps EXOSTATs, or TPF2.0…?), all combined with improved ground based networks for follow up. Given the steady stream of current discoveries, the first extension should be approved.

The quick vote held on the final day of talks seemed to call overwhelmingly for two years from now as a tentative date for a re-assessment conference…unless there is an need to call it early and we find ourselves back on the road down to San Jose again in 2012…

We shall see!