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Yale Astronomy



November 25, 2014 - The Front End Module for the Spectrograph the Yale Exoplanets Group is building for the Moletai Astrophysical Observatory has officially passed the design review stage. Parts are now being fabricated and the team is operating ahead of schedule. For more information on the MAO Spectrograph check out the MAO Page.

November 20, 2014 - Stellar diameters and temperatures for two of the most well-studied exoplanet hosting stars, HD 189733 and HD 209458, have been measured with unprecedented precision using the CHARA array and accepted for publication. the paper, lead by Yale Exoplanet Group postdoctoral fellow Tabby Boyajian, can be viewed on astro-ph.

November 16, 2014 - A bounty of exoplanets have been discovered from the N2K planet search, lead by Yale Exoplanet Group graduate student Matt Giguere. The results have been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. NASA ADS Paper Page.

October 29, 2014 - In a paper submitted to the Astronomical Journal and posted on astro-ph , Yale exoplanet postdoctoral fellow Ji Wang has uncovered a correlation between small planet occurrence rates and the metal abundance in a star system. Conventionally, astronomers refer to metals as elements heavier than Hydrogen and Helium. The correlation, namely the planet-metallicity correlation, was already known for large planets with sizes similar to that of the Jupiter. Dr. Wang finds that such correlations exist not only for large planets but also for planets as small as the Earth. The newly established planet-metallicity correlation implies that metal-rich stars should be the preferential targets in the search for Earth-like planets.

October 28, 2014 - Grad student Joey Schmitt is the lead author on a new exoplanet discovery, made with the help of Planet Hunter volunteers. The new planet, PH3 c, is a low-mass world, just four times the mass of Earth, with a very low density. In fact, nearly 90% of its volume is composed of hydrogen and helium! Its low mass was possible to measure by modeling transit timing. The orbital period drifted by 10 hours after just a few orbits because of gravitational interactions with a sibling, Saturn-like planet. The article has been published in the Astrophysical Journal. NASA ADS Paper Page.

October 9, 2014 - Yale exoplanet group has taken control of the MOST Satellite to use in conjunction with the CHIRON Spectrometer and HARPS in a new observing campaign. The project, lead by Yale Exoplanet Group graduate student Matt Giguere, aims to characterize stellar activity on two of our nearest stellar neighbors, Tau Ceti and Eps Eri.

The MOST Satellite

August 2014 In a pair of papers just published, Postdoc Ji Wang finds evidence for suppressed planet formation in binary or multiple star systems. Paper 2. Paper 1.

August 20, 2014 - Yale exoplanet postdoctoral fellow Ji Wang's paper on the influence of stellar multiplicity on planet formation has now been published in the Astrophysical Journal. NASA ADS Paper Page.

August 18, 2014 - The Back End Module for the Spectrograph the Yale Exoplanets Group is creating for the Moletai Astrophysical Observatory has officially passed the design review stage, and parts are now being fabricated. For more information on the MAO Spectrograph check out the MAO Page.

June 24, 2014 - The Yale Exoplanets Group received full funding for the Extreme Precision Spectrograph (EXPRES). EXPRES, with a goal of 10 cm/s instrumental precision, will be built at Yale, installed on the 4.3 m Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona, and used for the 100 Earths Project.

May 12, 2014 - Grad student Jack Moriarty leads a new study finding that Diamond planets may be more common than astronomers once thought. The researchers found that carbon-rich planets can form in disks with carbon-oxygen ratios (C/O) as low as 0.65. Previous models predicted carbon-rich planets could only form in disks with C/O higher than 0.8. This is important because there are many more stars with C/O greater than 0.65 than there are with C/O greater than 0.8.

Diamond planets may be more common than astronomers thought. 
	(Illustration by Haven Giguere)
© Haven Giguere
YaleNews Press Release
NASA ADS Link to the Paper

December 4, 2013 - The progress by everyone on the team in the past month has been vigorous and exciting: Doppler exoplanet detections, instrument development for innovation in Doppler precision, precise measurements of stellar diameters, spectroscopic analysis of stars on Doppler surveys, coupling of Kepler asteroseismic and spectroscopic data for a revision of fundamental stellar astrophysics, detection of transiting planets in Kepler data, searches for microlensing events in Kepler data, evolution of planet radii (Kepler data), and many new Planet Hunters discoveries (partnering with volunteers and scientists around the world).

  • Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Tyler McCracken: successfully defended his PhD thesis (Nov 2013)
  • Tyler McCracken and Colby Jurgenson: a paper on enhancement of fringe tracking for IR stellar interferometry accepted by Applied Optics and a second paper on the ICONN fringe-tracker at MRO accepted by the Journal of Astronomical Instrumentation (Nov 2013)
  • Colby Jurgenson, Tyler McCracken, Will Rutter (summer undergrad student from MIT), and grad student Jeremy Branford: successful demonstration of a prototype precision wavelength calibration system using super-continuum light source filtered by a tunable F-P laser that is locked to hyperfine transitions (to be presented at the June 2014 SPIE meeting in Montreal)
  • Tabby Boyajian: a paper predicting stellar diameters accepted by ApJ (Nov 2013) and a paper with undergrad Miranda Kephardt on stellar angular diameters of eleven planet-hosting stars (Dec 2013)
  • Grad student Joey Schmitt: Planet Hunter paper (with first 7-planet system and a dozen other planet transit candidates) favorably reviewed by the ApJ (Dec 2013)
  • Grad student Jack Moriarty: paper modeling the chemical evolution of planetesimals in protoplanetary disks submitted to the ApJ (Nov 2013)
  • Grad student John Brewer: paper on the web-interface tools for the CHIRON spectrometer accepted to the PASP (Nov 2013)
  • Grad student Matt Giguere: paper on multi-planet systems from the metal-rich N2K survey submitted to ApJ (Dec 2013)
  • Postdoc Ji Wang: paper on planet formation in binary star systems paper (Kepler data) favorably reviewed (Dec 2013)
  • Instrument group: awarded a contract for the Moletai Observatory spectrograph in Lithuania (Dec 2013)
  • Debra Fischer: Twenty-Five year Lick Planet Search paper (accepted Nov 2013)

October 28, 2013 - Grad student Joey Schmitt leads a new paper on the discovery of the first 7-planet transiting in the Kepler data, discovered by Planet Hunters.

Read the press release and take a tour of the 7-planet KOI351 system!

September 12, 2013 - Professor Debra Fischer received the Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity's Ten Outstanding Faculty Members Award. The annual award is given to ten professors from the US and Canada and is in honor of her passion for inspiring students as well as actions that connect to Kappa Alpha Theta aspirations: intellectual curiosity, leadership potential, commitment to service, and personal excellence.

Kappa Alpha Theta Press Release

May 15, 2013 - Grad student Matt Giguere was awarded a prestigious NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship to carry out his dissertation work to detect low mass planets using the CHIRON spectrometer at CTIO.

NASA Press Release

January 7, 2013 - In a paper led by Ji Wang, Planet Hunters announces the discovery of a Jupiter-size planet in the habitable zone of a sunlike star and the detection of 42 new planet candidates.

© Haven Giguere
Yale press release
Oxford press release

November 12, 2012 - In a paper led by Meg Schwamb, Planet Hunters announces the discovery of our first confirmed planet. PH1 is a circumbinary planet in a four-star system and you can also ready about it in the press.

LA Times article
Yale press release

August 12, 2012 - Exoplanet team member Zak Kaplan presented a poster at the summer 2012 AAS meeting and was one of four undergraduate students who received an Astronomy Achievement Student Award. Zak was honored with a Chambliss medal for his work on "An Innovative Combination of Fiber Scrambling and Pupil Slicing for High Resolution Spectrographs."

Zak's AAS Poster (pdf)

April 18, 2012 - Professor Debra Fischer was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in recognition of her scientific contributions in astronomy. Dr. Fischer was one of six Yale faculty members elected to the 2012 Class of Fellows.

April 18, 2012 - On Wednesday, April 18, author and astrophysicist, Marc Kuchner, conducted a workshop at Yale on Marketing for Scientists. The workshop was based on Dr. Kuchner's book by the same title.

February 28, 2012 - Announcing a second Planet Hunters paper, Planet Hunters: New Kepler planet candidates from analysis of quarter 2, which presents new planet candidates identified by volunteers engaged in the Planet Hunters citizen science project.

January 19, 2012 - We are proud to announce that Dr. Christian Schwab was awarded a prestigious 2012 Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship. The NASA Exoplanet Science Institute's Sagan Fellowships "support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the science goals of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration program. The primary goal of missions within this program is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars."

January 15, 2012 - The BBC News invites citizen scientists to explore PlanetHunters.org and join in the hunt for nearby planets that could support life.

November 18, 2011 - The Planet Hunters project is featured on WNPR, the Connecticut Public Broadcast Network, in a look at crowdsourced science. Listen to this episode of the 'Where We Live' program on the WNPR website.

October 27, 2011 - Through a 10-year, $12 million agreement in 2009, Yale purchased rights from the California Institute of Technology to use the telescope at Keck Observatory, which sits atop a dormant volcano in Hawaii, for 15 nights per year. ... Five astronomy professors interviewed said the station has bolstered Yale’s image as a leader in the field of astronomy and dramatically expanded the research capabilities of the department. For more details, see the full Yale Daily News article.

September 23, 2011 - The Yale Exoplanet Group recently announced six planets that were previously unknown, five of which were in multi-planet systems. The inner planet in one of these systems, HD 163607b, is the most eccentric planet in any multi-planet system detected to date, which has interesting implications for the physical mechanisms under which planetary systems evolve. These discoveries also helped Yale astronomers determine that more than half of the smaller planets, so-called Super-Earths, are members of multi-planet systems like our own solar system. For more details, see the two papers below:



September 22, 2011 - The first two potential exoplanets discovered by Planet Hunters users was announced today. See the Yale Press Release, read the paper, Planet Hunters: The First Two Planet Candidates Identified by the Public using the Kepler Public Archive Data, or see news coverage about the discoveries on CNN, MSNBC, Discover Magazine's Bad Astronomy, PC Magazine, or the International Business Times' Science section, among others.

Meg Schwamb using 


September 13, 2011 - Announcing the Origins @ Yale Fall 2011 Seminar Series, a series of interdisciplinary "Origins" discussions at Yale that are intended to draw together the broad range of expertise of the faculty, researchers and students. The discovery of hundreds of exoplanets has energized scientific research across several fields, ranging from the formation and evolution of life, to the structure of other planets. Join us if you can!

March 16, 2011 - The team commissioned a new spectrograph, CHIRON, at the 1.5-m CTIO telescope. The spectrograph was designed by A. Tokovinin (CTIO), C. Schwab (Yale) and J. Spronck (Yale) and was funded under an NSF ARRA grant (P.I. Fischer). This was an outstanding experience for everyone involved and time will be available on this new facility instrument beginning in 2011B through SMARTS and NOAO. There are 4 observing modes that are currently supported: narrow slit (R=120,000), normal slit (R=90,000), image slicer (R=90,000) and fiber (R=30,000).

March 3, 2011 - PlanetHunters have identified 47 prospective transit candidates, not on current Kepler lists. We sent the top ten candidates to the Kepler team and they report that all of these candidates successfully passed their data validation pipelines (two were eclipsing binary systems). Congratulations to the Citizen Scientists!

February 2, 2011 - NASA's Kepler mission discovers over 1,200 potential planets, including a fascinating six-planet system, and over 50 planets that may be in their suns' habitable zones. Watch the NASA press conference, or read more about it in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, Universe Today, and other news sites.

February 1, 2011 - PlanetHunters.org finds promising planet candidates in the Kepler data. Read more on MSNBC.com.

December 16, 2010 - Web users around the globe can now help professional astronomers in their search for Earth-like planets, using an online citizen science project called Planet Hunters. Join the search at http://www.planethunters.org.

For Current News, see the Exoplanets homepage.

Photo by Julien Spronck