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The NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) is part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) and is on the campus of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA. NExScI was formerly known as the Michelson Science Center and before that as the Interferometry Science Center. It was renamed NExScI in the Fall of 2008 to reflect NASA's growing interest in the search for planets outside of the Solar System, also known as exoplanets. The executive director of NExScI is Charles A. Beichman.
NExScI is the science, operations, and analysis service organization for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program and the scientists and engineers that use them. NExScI facilitates the timely and successful execution of exoplanet science by providing software infrastructure, science operations, and consulting to Exoplanet Exploration Program projects and their user communities.
The activities and programs that NExScI oversees and manages are described in more detail in this article.
The Sagan Program is administered for the Exoplanet Exploration Program by NExScI, and it includes both the Sagan Fellowship Program and the Sagan Exoplanet Summer Workshop. The Sagan Fellowships are one of three themed postdoctoral fellowships that are part of the Astrophysics Science Directorate. The Sagan Fellowships support Exoplanet research, and are joined by two other NASA astrophysics theme-based fellowship programs: the Einstein Fellowship Program which supports Physics of the Cosmos research, and the Hubble Fellowship Program which supports Cosmic Origins research. Applications to the Sagan Postdoctoral Program are accepted in the Fall of each year with typically 5-7 offers made by the following February. The fellowships are for three years with annual renewal contingent upon performance and funding.
Summer Workshops are also part of the Sagan Exoplanet Program and offer a chance to graduate students and postdocs to explore an exoplanet-related topic in depth. The workshops have been offered since 1999 (prior to 2009 they were known as the Michelson Summer Workshops). Recent topics of the summer workshops are Stars as Homes for Habitable Planets , Exoplanetary Atmospheres and Microlensing .
NExScI maintains several astronomical data archives for use by the science community. The two largest are the NASA Exoplanet Archive and the Keck Observatory Archive (KOA).
Funded by NASA, the NASA Exoplanet Archive serves the user community working with exoplanet data, primarily by serving transit data sets from Kepler mission and COnvection ROtation and planetary Transits (CoRoT) and providing long-term data curation and analysis tools. The archive content includes exoplanet and stellar host properties and Kepler candidate properties in interactive tables and time series data from space- and ground-based projects. Analysis tools include visualizations, periodogram calculations, and transit ephemeris predictions. The new service is available at exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu.
The Keck Observatory Archive (KOA) is a NASA-funded collaboration between the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) and the W. M. Keck Observatory (WMKO). The KOA archive includes data from two of the instruments on the Keck telescopes, the High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph (HIRES) and the Near InfraRed echelle SPECtrograph (NIRSPEC). KOA first released archived HIRES data on August 18, 2004 and the data extend back to 1994. The NIRSPEC data were first released on May 17, 2010 and extend back to 1999.
Public access to these data is governed by the data release policy agreed to between NASA and the Keck partner institutions. Observations supporting Deep Impact and GRB051111, a gamma ray burst observed on November 11, 2005, may be accessed from dedicated download pages, as well as through the KOA user interface.
The two 10-meter aperture Keck telescopes are located on the dormant Mauna Kea volcano on the island of Hawaii. They are operated for the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), the University of Hawaii (UH), and NASA by the William M. Keck Observatory (WMKO) in Waimea, HI.
As a partner in the Keck telescopes, NASA receives 1/6th of the time available each year for astronomical observations. The proposal solicitation, selection, and scheduling is managed for NASA by NExScI, with calls for proposals issued twice each year (with due dates in September and March) for the two observing semesters on the telescopes. Proposals are evaluated on their scientific content as well as their tie to NASA's strategic and mission support goals.
The Keck Interferometer (KI) connects the two 10-meter Keck telescopes as an infrared interferometer with a baseline of 85 meters. This project was funded by NASA and developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the W.M. Keck Observatory and NExScI. KI included the visibility amplitude and nulling modes as well as a more recently developed astrometric mode.
During KI operations, scientists at NExScI provided support to plan and conduct observations. NExScI has also developed various software tools to model and plan interferometric observations and to calibrate KI data. Following observing semester 2012A (ending on July 31, 2012), the Keck Interferometer will no longer be available for use. However the data archive and software tools are still available and can be accessed through the NExScI's KI support page.
The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI)is installed on the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham, Arizona. LBTI is designed to explore the regions surrounding nearby star systems for dust and planets and provide super resolution imaging in the mid-infrared.
LBTI science operations are expected to start in early 2013 and NExScI will provide the data archive for LBTI and serve as the support center for Guest Investigators using NASA time on the instrument.
The Palomar Testbed Interferometer (PTI)was a near-IR, long-baseline stellar interferometer located at Palomar Observatory in north San Diego County. It was developed to demonstrate the utility of ground-based differential astrometry in the search for planets around nearby stars, and to develop key technologies for the Keck Interferometer and space-based missions. PTI is no longer an operating facility, but previously collected data can be accessed through the PTI archive.
PTI's dual-star tracking system, the first and (still) only of its kind, simultaneously tracks interference fringes from a target star and a reference star against which the target is measured.
PTI has also been used to measure the sizes of dwarf, giant, and supergiant stars; the sizes of emissive regions around young stellar objects; and binary star orbits. It is the first interferometer to have directly measured the diameter changes of a Cepheid variable star, and directly measured the rotational oblateness of a rapidly rotating star.
NExScI personnel were instrumental in the development and scientific accomplishments of PTI, and are largely responsible for its data infrastructure and science planning and processing applications.
NExScI scientists and programmers have had the lead role in developing the Science Analysis System for the Kepler Mission. KSAS the software system used by the Kepler Science Team to collect all mission and follow-up data on planet candidates, manage the follow-up observing and produce mission results catalogs. KSAS also facilitates identification of planet candidates and helps the Kepler science team prioritize these candidates for follow-up ground observations. NExScI also developed the follow-up observation programserver as part of this effort. In the coming years, the tools developed for KSAS will be applied to other transit datasets.
Astronomers at NExScI are involved in a variety of projects, conducting science research using ground and space-based observatories and also figuring out how to best manage the vast amounts of astronomical data and make it available to the wider public.
The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), science operations and mission operations center for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and science operations center for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. STScI was established in 1981 as a community-based science center that is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). STScI's offices are located on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus and in the Rotunda building in Baltimore, Maryland.
The W. M. Keck Observatory is an astronomical observatory with two telescopes at an elevation of 4,145 meters (13,600 ft) near the summit of Mauna Kea in the U.S. state of Hawaii. Both telescopes have 10 m (33 ft) aperture primary mirrors, and when completed in 1993 and 1996 were the largest astronomical telescopes in the world. They are currently the 3rd and 4th largest.
Palomar Observatory is an astronomical research observatory in San Diego County, California, United States, in the Palomar Mountain Range. It is owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Research time at the observatory is granted to Caltech and its research partners, which include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Yale University, and the National Optical Observatories of China.
The Kepler space telescope is a disused space telescope launched by NASA in 2009 to discover Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars. Named after astronomer Johannes Kepler, the spacecraft was launched into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit. The principal investigator was William J. Borucki. After nine and a half years of operation, the telescope's reaction control system fuel was depleted, and NASA announced its retirement on October 30, 2018.
The Palomar Testbed Interferometer (PTI) was a near infrared, long-baseline stellar interferometer located at Palomar Observatory in north San Diego County, California, United States. It was built by Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was intended to serve as a testbed for developing interferometric techniques to be used at the Keck Interferometer. It began operations in 1995 and achieved routine operations in 1998, producing more than 50 refereed papers in a variety of scientific journals covering topics from high precision astrometry to stellar masses, stellar diameters and shapes. PTI concluded operations in 2008 and has since been dismantled.
NASA's Origins program is a decades-long study addressing the origins of the universe, various astronomical bodies, and life. The Origins program was started in the 1990s.
PlanetQuest is NASA's education and public outreach program centered on the science and technology of NASA's long-term search for habitable planets beyond the Solar System.
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is a space telescope for NASA's Explorer program, designed to search for exoplanets using the transit method in an area 400 times larger than that covered by the Kepler mission. It was launched on 18 April 2018, atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle and was placed into a highly elliptical 13.70-day orbit around the Earth. The first light image from TESS was taken on 7 August 2018, and released publicly on 17 September 2018.
Kepler-7b is one of the first five exoplanets to be confirmed by NASA's Kepler spacecraft, and was confirmed in the first 33.5 days of Kepler's science operations. It orbits a star slightly hotter and significantly larger than the Sun that is expected to soon reach the end of the main sequence. Kepler-7b is a hot Jupiter that is about half the mass of Jupiter, but is nearly 1.5 times its size; at the time of its discovery, Kepler-7b was the second most diffuse planet known, surpassed only by WASP-17b. It orbits its host star every five days at a distance of approximately 0,06 AU. Kepler-7b was announced at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society on January 4, 2010. It is the first extrasolar planet to have a crude map of cloud coverage.
Kepler-5b is one of the first five planets discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft. It is a Hot Jupiter that orbits a subgiant star that is more massive, larger, and more diffuse than the Sun is. Kepler-5 was first flagged as the location of a possibly transiting planet, and was reclassified as a Kepler Object of Interest until follow-up observations confirmed the planet's existence and many of its characteristics. The planet's discovery was announced at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society on January 4, 2010. The planet has approximately twice the mass of Jupiter, and is about 1.5 times larger. It is also fifteen times hotter than Jupiter. Kepler-5b orbits Kepler-5 every 3.5 days at a distance of approximately 0.051 AU.
The Lick–Carnegie Exoplanet Survey (LCES) is a search for exoplanets using the Keck I optical telescope of the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The survey is sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation. The survey comprises a decade of observations. The survey is led by Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California at Santa Cruz, and R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution.
HR 8799 e is a large exoplanet, orbiting the star HR 8799, which lies 129 light-years from Earth. This gas giant is between 5 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in the Planetary System. Due to their young age and high temperature all four discovered planets in the HR 8799 system are large, compared to all gas giants in the Solar System.
Kepler-10b is the first confirmed terrestrial planet to have been discovered outside the Solar System by the Kepler Space Telescope. Discovered after several months of data collection during the course of the NASA-directed Kepler Mission, which aims to discover Earth-like planets crossing in front of their host stars, the planet's discovery was announced on January 10, 2011. Kepler-10b has a mass of 3.72±0.42 Earth masses and a radius of 1.47 Earth radii. However, it lies extremely close to its star, Kepler-10, and as a result is too hot to support life as we know it. Its existence was confirmed using measurements from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
Kepler-12b is a hot Jupiter that orbits G-type star Kepler-12 some 900 parsecs (2,900 ly) away. The planet has an anomalously large radius that could not be explained by standard models at the time of its discovery, almost 1.7 times Jupiter's size while being 0.4 times Jupiter's mass. The planet was detected by the Kepler spacecraft, a NASA project searching for planets that transit their host stars. The discovery paper was published on September 5, 2011.
Astrophysics Strategic Mission Concept Studies [AMSCS] is an program within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration agency of the United States government for possible projects leading to probable prospective missions.
PH2, also known as Kepler-86, or KIC 12735740, is a G-type star 1,130 ly (350 pc) distant within the constellation Cygnus. Roughly the size and temperature of the Sun, PH2 gained prominence when it was known to be the host of one of 42 planet candidates detected by the Planet Hunters citizen science project in its second data release. The candidate orbiting around PH2, known as PH2 b, had been determined to have a spurious detection probability of only 0.08%, thus effectively confirming its existence as a planet.
Kepler-62e is a super-Earth exoplanet discovered orbiting within the habitable zone of Kepler-62, the second outermost of five such planets discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Kepler-62e is located about 990 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Lyra. The exoplanet was found using the transit method, in which the dimming effect that a planet causes as it crosses in front of its star is measured. Kepler-62e may be a terrestrial or ocean-covered planet; it lies in the inner part of its host star's habitable zone.
The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) initiative is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) virtual institute designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in the search for life on exoplanets. Led by the Ames Research Center, the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NExSS will help organize the search for life on exoplanets from participating research teams and acquire new knowledge about exoplanets and extrasolar planetary systems.
Sarah Ballard is an American Professor of Astronomy currently at the University of Florida. She has been a Torres Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a L'Oreal Fellow, and a NASA Carl Sagan Fellow.
Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) for the Hubble Space Telescope is a system of three instruments used for pointing the telescope in space, and also for astrometry and its related sciences. Each FGS uses a combination of optics and electronics to provide for pointing the telescope at a certain location in the sky. There are three Hubble FGS, and they have been upgraded over the lifetime of the telescope by manned Space Shuttle missions. The instruments can support pointing of 2 milli-arc seconds. The three FGS are part of the Hubble Space Telescope's Pointing Control System, aka PCS. The FGS function in combination with the Hubble main computer and gyroscopes, with the FGS providing data to the computer as sensors which enables the HST to track astronomical targets.