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Kepler Science Conference Part 4

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 1 of a two part blog post summarizing the Kepler Science Conference sessions.

Hi Planet Hunters!

Finally off the road and home from KepSciCon! It was an absolute thrill for Tom, Kian and I to break from routine and sit in on a week of talks and presentations by so many members of the professional astronomical community who are sorting out thousands of exoplanet candidates from the Kepler data. First off a big thanks to NASA-Ames and the Kepler Team for being such gracious hosts and also for making available online all of the interesting session talk videos and other materials right away. Thanks as well to Meg Shwamb for inviting me to share some notes from this rather historic first gathering.

Kepler is continuing to pay dividends–and then some. I tried to pick out a few items from each of the session themes that seemed most relevant to staring at hundreds of light curves–this was extremely difficult as all of it was very, very interesting! On the other hand a complete and uncut edition of my cliffs from KSC looks like a bad draft for a stellar version of ‘War & Peace’. Really I think we’ve just barely scratched the surface of what the Kepler data has to offer. So many interesting things came up that aren’t inculded below I really recommend checking out some of the web archive. I suspect, that once you watch a few of the linked videos on these blogs you will end up  watching them all!

Let me tell you: there was a lot of excitement in the room when Bill Borucki took the stage Monday morning to announce  Kepler-22b to us!

Natalie Batalha  followed up with more on K-22b and other key Kepler Objects of Interest like K-11, K-16 & K-19. Meg has also done a good summary regarding the details in her blog. I won’t expand on -22b, save to note it was fun to watch that buzz grow into thousands of news stories, online articles and late night  spoofs over the five days following the bean-spilling. Whatever the final outcome on -22b’s habitability prospects, it’s good to see the public getting jazzed up about exoplanets. This is just the first of many worlds that will swell the future HZ catalog, after all!


  • Several talks out of the gates involving data from CoRoT (en français: COnvection ROtation et Transits planétaire) and their 3000+ transit detections across two fields of view in different galaztic areas (a cool detail I’d somehow missed before) I wonder what its ultimate tally will tell us about the distribution of exoplanet populations and their characteristics in different latitudes and environments of the Milky Way?
  • A lot of  impressive information from Jon Jenkins and other presenters on how the PDC-MAP (or ‘pipeline’) is ever evolving in its examination of the growing mass of data, and how the greatest value there will be tapped by allowing it to ‘chew’ over that data through maximum ‘full yield’ extended mission. Securing the full extended mission was mentioned repeatedly at the conference and is the obvious requirement to maximize advancement across multiple fields of study; a nominal mission would run through 2016 and possibly longer assuming no serious degradation of Kepler’s ability to phone home.
  • Many encouraging details about various improvements and refinements within the Kepler Input Catalog, which holds parameters for most stars hosting known or suspected exoplanets in the FOV; this s key for most estimations derived for exoplanet values of mass, radius, and other key characteristics.
  • Found in this session as well is Meg’s presentation for and the two exoplanets detailed in the first PH reviewed paper. Everyone who contributed to this project since inception should be very proud of those results!
  • Excellent talk about follow up results from the infrared space-based Spitzer telescope, some of which indicate the false positive rate within the current candidate list is very low–possibly under 10%!
  • Big potential for the 747 jumbo jet-based SOFIA telescope to add to the ‘ground based’ follow up observation capability for KOI’s, as well as HUGE potential in the way of upcoming space borne observatories like TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey) and multi-band suited GAIA from the ESA. I found TESS particularly interesting because it will survey many stars in our own immediate solar neighborhood for transits!
  • This session was followed up by a lunchtime review of the possible consequences of the proprietary data period ending in second half of 2012–Meg touched on this earlier and I think we will continue to see exciting prospects for collaboration and growth within our community as we move into the New Year.


  • We don’t have any good analogs or even a close relative to worlds like these in our own solar system, so understanding them and understanding why we don’t have any here is of great importance.
  • Fascinating theoretical possibility of a new locales for liquid water, tucked away inside puffed up sub-Neptunes, given by Leslie Rogers.
  • Good case studies on BLENDER the super-CPU modeler which we’ve seen discussed on PH Talk before. I wasn’t aware it had assisted a majority of the confirmed Super-Earths and sub-Neptunes on the lists to date!
  • Multitude of great talks on the wild and varied potential nature of Super-Earth and sub-Neptune environments, plus brief review of differing theoretical evolutionary paths for these bodies by Geoff Marcy, Andrew Howard and many others.
  • Check also the MEarth  project w/ Courtney Dressing; this intriguing survey is hunting exoplanets around smaller stars like M-dwarfs & should produce good results on its bottom line.
  • See Jill Tarter of SETI on ‘eta-Earth’ analogs and the reactivation of the powerful Allen Array (also known as the 1 Hectare Telescope) with its epic, massive Field Of View in north-eastern California, thanks to new funding sources. Good timing!


  • Awesome lead off presentation by Jack Lissauer: ‘Most Kepler multi-planet KOI’s are real and NOT false positives!’ More details on K-11, K-16 & K-20, amongst others included here.
  • Surely one of the best lines of the conference from David Ciardi, likening the massive flood of new Kepler data to being hit with a fire-hose full blast–or perhaps pepper spray!
  • Lot’s of good stuff about wildly different orbital eccentricities and other features found on some confirmed systems and KOI’s, many of which make our solar system look positively mundane in contrast. Also highlighted here were several new techniques being refined to deal with figuring quasi-period or variable transiting exoplanet models; some we’ve seen or discussed on PH Talk like TTV (Transit Timing Variation).
  •  I think longer period exoplanets will continue to be inferred in some systems where we already see multiple exoplanets transiting, this will probably add new questions c/t crazy range of possible configurations and packing we’ve already documented.
To be continued…

The Kepler Science Conference Part 3

This guest post is by fellow Planet Hunter and frequent contributor on PH Talk, Kian (Kianjin)  who attended the Kepler Science Conference. Some photos courtesy of Tom (Tom128)

For any exoplanet junkie, sitting in a packed room with over 500 planetary scientists geeking out over light curves is probably asking for an OD. And If I thought that the Planet Hunter community was full of obsessive compulsive nerds, then it was reassuring to find that professional Planet Hunters were just the same, but even more so. These are exceptionally smart people, much more intense and driven, and very fond of bad Star Trek jokes. These are the people I like. Our kind of people. We should be totally at home here.

Obviously there is a lot of planetary science here. In fact there is so much of this that they had to keep each session short. But that’s not so bad, all the details are in the paper which you can download, the change in scene every 15 minutes was welcome too, and the brisk pace kept people engaged. The concise nature of each talk meant fewer equations and graphs, capped off by a one slide take-home message – all very well for noobs like me.

Apart from the science, and there was a lot of that, I was quite thrilled to be here among the scientists, all of whom I knew only from their names on the papers they wrote. Sitting near me on the very first day were Jack Lissauer, Wiliam Welsh and Sara Seager. I would have asked for autographs but I didn’t really want to be that much of an exoplanet groupie. Instead I logged onto on my laptop (and would you believe that half the scientists at the conference also had laptops and were also feverishly typing into them?), found a few new light curves being discussed by fellow Planet Hunters and marked them for discussion. Light curves are like holy icons for planetary scientists. Walk up to one and show them an unusual light curve and they’ll drop all banter and get extremely serious. I managed to get a few priceless interpretations of some of the funkier ones, like the giant EB that TonyJHoffman found, a humongous 5-day eclipse that Jon Jenkins thought was not a data artifact.

Me With Jon Jenkins

Some personal highlights of the past few days:

Bill Borucki talking about the history of the entire mission, all the setbacks and the desperate fight to get it approved; how it was originally named FRESIP, but it took Carl Sagan to coin the wonderful name Kepler for it. And of course, he ended with the announcement of Kepler-22b. After his talk, the entire room broke out into a long and sustained applause in appreciation of the man who made it all possible. I think he must have been quite moved.

Bill Borucki announcing Kepler-22b.

Spotting Frank Drake all by himself during lunch drinking a cup of green coffee, and I wished I’d worn the t-shirt with his famous equation, but I dragged Tom and Daryll over for a photo op. For Dr Drake I’m willing to let my inner groupie come out.

With Dr Frank Drake. 

Meeting our very own and very talented Meg Schwamb in person and being there for her talk on the Planet Hunters Project. Yes, that’s finally our 15 minutes of fame among the rocket scientists. Meg’s a lot more feisty and formidable in real life than online, seeing the way she handled some pretty vigorous questioning at the end of her talk.

Meg introducing Planet Hunters

Finally, the most unexpected experience was to find myself standing in the line for the bathroom when I realized that the youngish man before me was Andrej Prsa. I started some small talk but realized it would be too inappropriate to ask him about some of the more bizarre EBs I’ve seen on Planet hunters. That will have to wait until after his talk on Thursday. See photo below!

Andrej Prsa looking at a light curve

So all in all, it was a very exciting and memorable event for everyone. Great science and talks by some of the best minds on planetary science all in one place. You should make an effort to come the next time. And bring those t-shirts for the autographs.

The First Kepler Science Conference Part 2

This guest post is by fellow Planet Hunter and frequent contributors on PH Talk, Tom (Tom128)  who attended the Kepler Science conference.

Having just returned home after the “First Kepler Science Conference”, I have some good news to share with our Planet Hunters members. There is a high likelihood for a second conference in two years time, so start making plans to attend. It was simply a high energy atmosphere, cutting edge assembly of some of the best and brightest minds trying to get their heads around what Kepler is doing to astronomy in general and astrophysics in particular which is nothing short of a revolution. Maybe we can call it a singularity of astronomical assets all working together trying to fathom what the Kepler data is revealing.  Planet Hunters is one of those assets as Kepler cannot look at each individual light curve.

It was a great pleasure meeting with other Planet Hunters such as Meg Schwamb of the PH science team and of course Kianjin and Nighthawk_black. What was originally billed as five half day sessions morphed into eight hour days or more by the start of the conference. Everyone wanted to have their 15 minutes of fame and for good reason. There are some exciting planets being discovered such as Kepler- 22b or the new class of “Heartbeat” stars. Meg did an outstanding job presenting for Planet Hunters and I encourage you all to visit the Kepler site to view her presentation online as well as the other speakers at the conference. You will not be disappointed.

My biggest take away from the conference was just how much our work at Planet Hunters is appreciated by the Kepler science team. Bill Borucki,  who heads the Kepler mission, said that he is thrilled about what Planet Hunters is doing. We heard this theme again and again from many of the Kepler co-team members.

Let’s classify some more light curves!

The First Kepler Science Conference

Greetings from the Cleaveland airport, I’m on my way back to Yale from California. This past week I’ve been attending y the First Kepler Science Conference at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. It has been a full week of talks and posters on extrasolar planets, planet formation, and stellar astrophysics with emphasis on results from Kepler.

I gave a talk in the Kepler mission and exoplanet statistics session presenting Planet Hunters and our first results. My talk and the entire conference was recorded and the videos are available to view here.

There were lots of interesting talks highlighting what a treasure trove the Kepler data set is. The Kepler team announced the detection of over 2,000 planet candidates identified in the first five quarters of Kepler observations and the discovery of Kepler’s first confirmed planet (Kepler 22-b) orbiting in the habitable zone of a solar-type star. The habitable zone has been dubbed the goldilocks zone because it’s the region around the star where it not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist.  So if Kepler-22b is rocky it might have liquid water on its surface, but we don’t currently have a good mass estimate for Kepler-22b so we don’t know what its composition is.  Kepler-22 b is bigger than the Earth, with a radius of 2.4 times the radius of the Earth. It orbits its star every 290 days, so the Kepler team has just been able to see three complete transits of the planet.Kepler 22-b was called the Kepler team’s “Christmas Planet” says Kepler principal investigator (PI)  Bill Borucki because one of the transits occurred near Christmas.  You can find out more about Kepler-22b here and view the light curve here.

In other exciting new, lots more data and possible planets are coming our way in the next year. The new public release schedule for Kepler data was presented on the first day of the conference. Quarters 4, 5, and 6 (spanning observations fromDec 2009-Sep 2010) will be released on Jan 7, 2012. Quarters 7, 8, and 9 (Sep 2010-Jun 2011) will be released on Jul 28, 2012. Quarters 10, 11, 12, and 13 (Jun 2011-Jun 2012) will be released on Oct 28, 2012. There’s bound to be interesting and new things waiting to found as we add and more.

Past the nominal misson, if the mission is renewed, the Kepler data will no longer have a proprietary period. If NASA awards funding for an extended mission, then beyond November the Kepler light curves will be made available to public as soon as the raw data is downloaded from the spacecraft and processed through the Kepler data processing pipelines. This is going to be an exciting prospect for the exoplanet community and  for Planet Hunters.

Fellow zooites and Planet Hunters Daryll  (nighthawk_black), Kian (kianjin), and  Tom(Tom128) attended the conference too. They’ll each be guest bloggers in the up coming weeks to share their impressions and highlights of the conference.

From left to right: Kian, Tom, and Daryll

Happy Hunting,


Quick Update

It’s been awhile since we gave an update to what the team’s been up to. So what have we been doing…..

Last month, Chris and I were attending the EPSC–DPS meeting in Nantes, France. I gave a talk on our first results. It went well, and there was good feedback about Planet Hunters.  After the conference, I went to Oxford and spent the week at Oxford Zooniverse HQ with Chris working on all things Planet Hunters.

We’ve developed a pipeline to take the raw classifications and go to short period planet candidates (planets with orbits less than 15 days)  using the results from all your classifications of the real Kepler light curves and the simulations. With the results from the simulations, we know what was detected and not detected and can come out with a detection efficiency for Planet Hunters. It looks like  Planet Hunters is ~90-95% efficient at detecting  objects larger than ~3 Earth radii. We presented the early results from this work at EPSC-DPS, and spent most of the time at Oxford analyzing and understanding the results from the pipeline. It was a good productive trip, and I left Oxford with a plan and outline for a paper based on the results from the short period planet analysis. Chris and I are currently working on writing the first draft of this paper.

Next up, is the First Kepler Science Conference at NASA Ames from December 5-9.  Arfon Smith (lead developer for the Zooniverse, Director of Citizen Science at the Adler Planeterium, and  one of the developers on Planet Hunters)  and I will be attending, and I’ll be giving a talk on Planet Hunters on the second day of the conference. There will also be public talks by some of the Kepler team on the night of December 6th. January 8-12  is the American Astronomical Society’s  (AAS) 219th meeting. This year, the meeting is being held in Austin, Texas, and Chris, Kevin, and I will be there.  Chris will be giving a talk on Planet Hunters at AAS in the Exoplanets: New Surveys Session.

We’re also still looking for new planet candidates and trying to further vet the ones we have identified. We’ll keep everyone posted as more comes from that in the future. More to come as we get closer to those conferences. Now back to paper writing……



Bonjour from Nantes

Just a quick note to say hello from the EPSC-DPS meeting in Nantes, France. Chris and I are attending the meeting this week in France. I’m presenting a poster on my Kuiper belt southern sky survey today. Tomorrow, I will be giving the Planet Hunters talk detailing our first results (thanks to all of your hard work and classifications). We’re quite excited to be sharing the results from Planet Hunters to the rest of the planetary science community.

Conferences are great because we get to share the new and latest results and get feedback from our fellow scientists in the community. We are slotted to be the last talk in the CoRoT and Kepler results session and we’ll be live tweeting the session. We’ll be giving a 7 minute talk (titled First Results from Planet Hunters: Exploring the Inventory of Short Period Planets from Kepler) with about 3 minutes for questions – so not very much time, but long enough to share the highlights from Planet Hunters including the two new planet candidates and the new results from my short period planet analysis.

As a teaser – here’s the title slide for the talk:




PS. If you’re interested in following the news from the conference on twitter – you can follow Chris and I @chrislintott and @megschwamb and the twitter hashtag #DPSEPSC

A Taste of DPS

As a scientist at one point or another you’ve given a talk or a poster at a conference. Conferences are a big part of the scientific process – researchers from your sub-field and wider field get together to share the latest interesting results with talks and poster sessions.  You talk about the results from the conference, new ideas,  and  projects you should work on with new people you meet and old friends and collaborators during the coffee breaks and dinners.

The EPSC-DPS meeting is a little more than a week away, and the team is very excited to be presenting our first results to our peers in the scientific community. Thanks to your hard work,  Chris and I are  going to present a talk on Planet Hunters and our latest results (more on that to come soon) on October 4th.

To give you an idea of  the conference and what it’s like to go – I have a snipet from the BBC’s Sky at Night – if you live in Great Britain you’re probably very familiar with this show. 6 years ago in 2005, the DPS meeting was again joint with the Europeans for EPSC-DPS at Cambridge. I wasn’t there, I started grad school the year after, but Chris was there reporting for the Sky at Night.

You can view the video here (though you’ll need real player – and you don’t need to be in the UK to view it)


News from Exteme Solar Systems II.

Hello Planet Hunters!  Grad student John Brewer is attending an exoplanet meeting this week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where there have been several exciting new announcements.  Of particular interest to, the Kepler team announced an astounding number of new planet candidates, and more than doubled the number of candidates in the habitable zone.  The list of 1235 planet candidates announced in February has grown to 1781 with 121 now in the habitable zone.  The number of earth-sized planet candidates increased by 95%!

The release date of the new candidate list is not yet set, but there is a bonus coming our way.  The Kepler team will be releasing the Q3 data on September 23, (six months early) and are moving up the Q4 release to January!  You will soon be swimming in new light curves.  One reason for the early release is the high demand for more data.  Congratulations, and thanks for all of your hard work.

John M. Brewer

Getting Closer to Nantes

We’re a few weeks away from Nantes where Chris and I will be attending the EPSC-DPS meeting to present results from Planet Hunters (and for me I’ll present a poster on my KBO work as well). Our talk will be on October 4th. We’ve been working hard to get  results for Nantes, and we’re asking for your help.

We are looking for volunteers to help screen the Q1 light curves a second time to make a final list of transit candidates. We’ve narrowed the list of potential light curves down, and we need your help identifying which of those have two or more transits.

If you’d like to join in, go to On the review site, you’ll see for each light curve the plotted transit boxes made by the zooites who reviewed the light curve (in blue)  to guide your eye. You’ll be asked to determine if there are at least two transits in the light curve based on the what’s flagged inside  the transit boxes and what you see in the light curve. The review site works differently than the Planet Hunters interface, so please do check out the introduction and help material.



Making every click count

We’re not much more than six weeks away from the DPS conference in France where Meg and I (but mostly Meg) are presenting our (but mostly Meg’s) work on estimating the number of planets revealed by Planet Hunters’ analysis of Kepler data.

For many of us working on or taking part in Planet Hunters, the motivation is discovery – and who wouldn’t want a piece of cosmic real estate, a planet discovered through our efforts? Much of the Keck follow-up we’ve been doing has been aimed at exactly this, but it’s not easy.

Distribution of Kepler candidates as of February

Kepler, you see, was never really designed as a mission which would definitively pin down the discovery of a vast number of new planets. Most of the 160,000 or so stars being monitored in the Kepler field are faint, on the limits of what can be easily studied from the ground. That’s why – even with 1235 candidates on the scoreboard at the Kepler site this morning, only 17 have been confirmed.

But this doesn’t matter. The main science goal for Kepler is to characterize the population of planets that are lurking out there – to determine how many Jupiter-, Neptune- and, of course, Earth-like planets there might be. If we know, for example, that only 95% of Neptune-sized planet detections are real, then we need not waste time determining which are the 1 in 20 that are confusing the sample.

How would we come up with that 95% number? The Kepler team could measure the number of false positives – planet candidates that aren’t actually planets – by following up on a carefully selected subset of their candidates. In fact, you can read what they’ve been up to in this paper from February.

But what about false negatives – planets that the Kepler pipeline passed by? We already suspect that Planet Hunters have been successful in finding candidates that the Kepler team originally missed. It’s here that we can help, and that’s the thrust of the work that we’ll be presenting at DPS. If all goes well, we should be able to make an independent estimate of the frequencies of types of planets.

We’ll write more about how we’re doing as the conference approaches, but in the meantime the more classifications we get the better the data we can use. And, of course, with each click comes the chance of making that elusive discovery…