The Search for Exoplanets

My 24-lecture series on exoplanetary science is now available from the Great Courses.  The company’s talented graphic artists did a wonderful job with the visual effects, which are very helpful for understanding the material.  However, I made a special effort to ensure that the course also works well for the audio-only listener (for those of you, like me, who listen to these courses in the car or at the gym).

Mejor tesis española en astrofisica


Roberto Sanchis-Ojeda has won a prize from the Spanish Astronomical Society for the Best Spanish Thesis in Astrophysics of the Year! The award ceremony will be in July 2016 in Bilbao. Que maravilla!

Happy birthday to Hubble


The Hubble Space Telescope was launched 25 years ago.  I attended a celebratory dinner at the American Visionary Art Museum, as part of the annual meeting of member-representatives of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).  Dinner was enjoyable for many reasons, among them the opportunity to view a new artwork called “Heaven’s Carousel” by Tim Otto Roth (see photo). This work was inspired by the discovery of the expanding — and accelerating — universe.  It was also interesting to hear the honorable (and formidable) Sen. Barbara Mikulski speak in person about her passion for the Hubble Space Telescope.

World-class observatories and natural wonders

Group photo on the summit of Mauna Kea (courtesy: Greg DeWitt)

I recently had the good fortune of being the “study leader” of a group tour of Hawaii, organized by the MIT Alumni Association. We visited the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea, watched mother and baby humpback whales off the coast of Maui, and hiked in Volcano National Park, among other adventures. The participants were all fascinating, friendly, and curious people. My three evening lectures were on telescopes, exoplanets, and cosmology. I hope to have more of these opportunities in the future! 

Congratulations Roberto!

Roberto has won the 2014 Sergio Vazquez prize, awarded by the MIT physics department “for his outstanding contributions to exoplanetary and his great potential for continued success.”  Earlier this week, Roberto also gave an excellent and well-received lecture here in Porto, Portgual, at a meeting entitled “Toward Other Earths.”

End-of-year prizes

Kat Deck was one of two recipients of the 2014 Eric Keto prize for the best thesis in theoretical astrophysics by a student working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  Her thesis was entitled "The orbital dynamics and long-term stability of planetary systems” and includes the discovery of a two-planet system in which the planetary orbits are likely to be misaligned by ≈20°.

Ashley Villar won the MIT Physics Department’s Orloff award for service, in recognition of her leadership of the Undergraduate Women in Physics, and her participation in the Educational Studies Program, PhysEx, MITx, and other outreach programs.

Congratulations, Kat and Ashley!



Last month, I recorded a pilot lecture for the Great Courses.  If market testing goes well, we may produce a 24-lecture course about exoplanets.  I am excited about this possibility because I love teaching, I love exoplanets, and I have been an avid customer of the Great Courses since 2008. I’ve listened to nearly all of Robert Greenberg’s courses on music, and I am working my way through all of the history and religion courses.  Here is a link to the 30-minute pilot lecture entitled Strange New Worlds.

Sabbatical-induced mass loss

During the academic year 2013/4, I have been on sabbatical at the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  One of my projects is an investigation of mass loss by astronomers.  Based on data obtained over the last few years (see chart below), I find strong support for a sabbatical-induced effect, with an ingress timescale of ~6 months and depth of at least 33% or 0.44 mag.  (The single outlier from the trend is easily explained as a consequence of dinner at the DaDong Roasted Duck Restaurant in Beijing.)

Champagne for Roberto

IMG 8580

On Friday, Roberto successfully defended his thesis, "Investigations of close-in exoplanets: starspot transits, and ultra-short-period planets." We celebrated with cake and cava from Barcelona.  In keeping with our sacred M.I.T. astrophysics traditions, Roberto has signed one of the bottles and is seen here placing it on the Shelf of Honor. Congratulations Roberto!

Victory for Amaury


Amaury Triaud has been awarded the 2014 MERAC Prize for the Best Doctoral Thesis in Observational Astrophysics.  Congratulations to Amaury on this extraordinary honor!

© Joshua Winn 2013