Steve B. Howell

NASA, Вашингтон, West Virginia, United States

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Publications (595)1745.71 Total impact

  • Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 09/2015; DOI:10.1086/683103 · 3.50 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We present new Spitzer Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) observations of three intermediate polars: V1223 Sgr, EX Hya, and V603 Aql. We detected a strong, fading flare event from V1223 Sgr. During this event, the flux declined by a factor of 13 in 30 minutes. Given the similarity in the slope of its mid-infrared spectrum during this event to that of AE Aqr, we suggest that this event was caused by transient synchrotron emission. Thus, V1223 Sgr becomes the third cataclysmic variable known to be a synchrotron source. We were unable to confirm the mid-infrared excess noted by Harrison et al. (Paper I) for EX Hya, suggesting that this object is either not a synchrotron source, or is slightly variable. Due to a very high background, V603 Aql was not detected in the long-wavelength regions accessible to the IRS. Given the recent detection of SS Cygni at radio wavelengths during outburst, we extract archival Spitzer IRS spectra for this source obtained during two successive maxima. These spectra do not show a strong excess, but without simultaneous data at shorter wavelengths, it is not possible to determine whether there is any contribution to the mid-infrared fluxes from a synchrotron jet.
    The Astrophysical Journal 08/2015; 710(1):325-331. DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/710/1/325 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: (Abbreviated) Kepler planet candidates require both spectroscopic and imaging follow-up observations to rule out false positives and detect blended stars. [...] In this paper, we examine a sample of 11 Kepler host stars with companions detected by two techniques -- near-infrared adaptive optics and/or optical speckle interferometry imaging, and a new spectroscopic deblending method. We compare the companion Teff and flux ratios (F_B/F_A, where A is the primary and B is the companion) derived from each technique, and find no cases where both companion parameters agree within 1sigma errors. In 3/11 cases the companion Teff values agree within 1sigma errors, and in 2/11 cases the companion F_B/F_A values agree within 1sigma errors. Examining each Kepler system individually considering multiple avenues (isochrone mapping, contrast curves, probability of being bound), we suggest two cases for which the techniques most likely agree in their companion detections (detect the same companion star). Overall, our results support the advantage the spectroscopic deblending technique has for finding very close-in companions ($\theta \lesssim$0.02-0.05") that are not easily detectable with imaging. However, we also specifically show how high-contrast AO and speckle imaging observations detect companions at larger separations ($\theta \geq$0.02-0.05") that are missed by the spectroscopic technique, provide additional information for characterizing the companion and its potential contamination (e.g., PA, separation, $\Delta$m), and cover a wider range of primary star effective temperatures. The investigation presented here illustrates the utility of combining the two techniques to reveal higher-order multiples in known planet-hosting systems.
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    ABSTRACT: We introduce the first phase of the Kepler-Swift Active Galaxies and Stars survey (KSwAGS), a simultaneous X-ray and UV survey of ~6 square degrees of the Kepler field using the Swift XRT and UVOT. We detect 93 unique X-ray sources with S/N>3 with the XRT, of which 60 have observed UV counterparts. We use the Kepler Input Catalog (KIC) to obtain the optical counterparts of these sources, and construct the X-ray to optical flux ratio as a first approximation of the classification of the source. The survey produces a mixture of stellar sources, extragalactic sources, and sources which we are not able to classify with certainty. We have obtained optical spectra for thirty of these targets, and are conducting an ongoing observing campaign to fully identify the sample. For sources classified as stellar or AGN with certainty, we construct SEDs using the 2MASS, UBV and GALEX data supplied for their optical counterparts by the KIC, and show that the SEDs differ qualitatively between the source types, and so can offer a method of classification in absence of a spectrum. Future papers in this series will analyze the timing properties of the stars and AGN in our sample separately. Our survey provides the first X-ray and UV data for a number of known variable stellar sources, as well as a large number of new X-ray detections in this well-studied portion of the sky. The KSwAGS survey is currently ongoing in the K2 ecliptic plane fields.
    The Astronomical Journal 08/2015; 150(4). DOI:10.1088/0004-6256/150/4/126 · 4.02 Impact Factor
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics 07/2015; DOI:10.1051/0004-6361/201526610 · 4.38 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We present the first detections by the NASA K2 Mission of oscillations in solar-type stars, using short-cadence data collected during K2 Campaign\,1 (C1). We understand the asteroseismic detection thresholds for C1-like levels of photometric performance, and we can detect oscillations in subgiants having dominant oscillation frequencies around $1000\,\rm \mu Hz$. Changes to the operation of the fine-guidance sensors are expected to give significant improvements in the high-frequency performance from C3 onwards. A reduction in the excess high-frequency noise by a factor of two-and-a-half in amplitude would bring main-sequence stars with dominant oscillation frequencies as high as ${\simeq 2500}\,\rm \mu Hz$ into play as potential asteroseismic targets for K2.
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    ABSTRACT: We present Spitzer 4.5\micron\ light curve observations, Keck NIRSPEC radial velocity observations, and LCOGT optical light curve observations of PTFO~8-8695, which may host a Jupiter-sized planet in a very short orbital period (0.45 days). Previous work by \citet{vaneyken12} and \citet{barnes13} predicts that the stellar rotation axis and the planetary orbital plane should precess with a period of $300 - 600$ days. As a consequence, the observed transits should change shape and depth, disappear, and reappear with the precession. Our observations indicate the long-term presence of the transit events ($>3$ years), and that the transits indeed do change depth, disappear and reappear. The Spitzer observations and the NIRSPEC radial velocity observations (with contemporaneous LCOGT optical light curve data) are consistent with the predicted transit times and depths for the $M_\star = 0.34\ M_\odot$ precession model and demonstrate the disappearance of the transits. An LCOGT optical light curve shows that the transits do reappear approximately 1 year later. The observed transits occur at the times predicted by a straight-forward propagation of the transit ephemeris. The precession model correctly predicts the depth and time of the Spitzer transit and the lack of a transit at the time of the NIRSPEC radial velocity observations. However, the precession model predicts the return of the transits approximately 1 month later than observed by LCOGT. Overall, the data are suggestive that the planetary interpretation of the observed transit events may indeed be correct, but the precession model and data are currently insufficient to confirm firmly the planetary status of PTFO~8-8695b.
    The Astrophysical Journal 06/2015; 809(1). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/809/1/42 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We measure planet occurrence rates using the planet candidates discovered by the Q1-Q16 Kepler pipeline search. This study examines planet occurrence rates for the Kepler GK dwarf target sample for planet radii, 0.75<Rp<2.5 Rearth, and orbital periods, 50<Porb<300 days, with an emphasis on a thorough exploration and identification of the most important sources of systematic uncertainties. Integrating over this parameter space, we measure an occurrence rate of F=0.77 planets per star, with an allowed range of 0.3<F<1.9. The allowed range takes into account both statistical and systematic uncertainties, and values of F beyond the allowed range are significantly in disagreement with our analysis. We generally find higher planet occurrence rates and a steeper increase in planet occurrence rates towards small planets than previous studies of the Kepler GK dwarf sample. Through extrapolation, we find that the one year orbital period terrestrial planet occurrence rate, zeta_1=0.1, with an allowed range of 0.01<zeta_1<2, where zeta_1 is defined as the number of planets per star within 20% of the Rp and Porb of Earth. For G dwarf hosts, the zeta_1 parameter space is a subset of the larger eta_earth parameter space, thus zeta_1 places a lower limit on eta_earth for G dwarf hosts. From our analysis, we identify the leading sources of systematics impacting Kepler occurrence rate determinations as: reliability of the planet candidate sample, planet radii, pipeline completeness, and stellar parameters.
    The Astrophysical Journal 06/2015; 809(1). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/809/1/8 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: KOI-81 is a totally eclipsing binary discovered by the Kepler mission that consists of a rapidly rotating B-type star and a small, hot companion. The system was forged through large scale mass transfer that stripped the mass donor of its envelope and spun up the mass gainer star. We present an analysis of UV spectra of KOI-81 that were obtained with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope that reveal for the first time the spectral features of the faint, hot companion. We present a double-lined spectroscopic orbit for the system that yields mass estimates of 2.92 M_sun and 0.19 M_sun for the B-star and hot subdwarf, respectively. We used a Doppler tomography algorithm to reconstruct the UV spectra of the components, and a comparison of the reconstructed and model spectra yields effective temperatures of 12 kK and 19 - 27 kK for the B-star and hot companion, respectively. The B-star is pulsating, and we identified a number of peaks in the Fourier transform of the light curve, including one that may indicate an equatorial rotation period of 11.5~hours. The B-star has an equatorial velocity that is 74% of the critical velocity where centrifugal and gravitational accelerations balance at the equator, and we fit the transit light curve by calculating a rotationally distorted model for the photosphere of the B-star.
    The Astrophysical Journal 05/2015; 806(2). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/806/2/155 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We present a study on the effect of undetected stellar companions on the derived planetary radii for the Kepler Objects of Interest (KOIs). The current production of the KOI list assumes that the each KOI is a single star. Not accounting for stellar multiplicity statistically biases the planets towards smaller radii. The bias towards smaller radii depends on the properties of the companion stars and whether the planets orbit the primary or the companion stars. Defining a planetary radius correction factor $X_R$, we find that if the KOIs are assumed to be single, then, {\it on average}, the planetary radii may be underestimated by a factor of $\langle X_R \rangle \approx 1.5$. If typical radial velocity and high resolution imaging observations are performed and no companions are detected, this factor reduces to $\langle X_R \rangle \approx 1.2$. The correction factor $\langle X_R \rangle$ is dependent upon the primary star properties and ranges from $\langle X_R \rangle \approx 1.6$ for A and F stars to $\langle X_R \rangle \approx 1.2$ for K and M stars. For missions like K2 and TESS where the stars may be closer than the stars in the Kepler target sample, observational vetting (primary imaging) reduces the radius correction factor to $\langle X_R \rangle \approx 1.1$. Finally, we show that if the stellar multiplicity rates are not accounted for correctly, occurrence rate calculations for Earth-sized planets may overestimate the frequency of small planets by as much as $15-20$\%.
    The Astrophysical Journal 03/2015; 805(1). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/805/1/16 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Six planetary nebulae (PN) are known in the Kepler space telescope field of view, three of which are newly identified. Of the five central stars of PN with useful Kepler data, one, J193110888+4324577, is the first short-period, post-common envelope binary exhibiting relativistic beaming effects. A second, the central star of the newly identified PN Pa 5, has a rare O(He) spectral type and a periodic variability consistent with an evolved companion, where the orbital axis is almost aligned with the line of sight. The third PN, NGC 6826, has a fast rotating central star, something that can only be achieved in a merger. Fourth, the central star of the newly identified PN Kn 61, has a PG1159 spectral type and a mysterious semi-periodic light variability which we conjecture to be related to the interplay of binarity with a stellar wind. Finally, the central star of the circular PN A61 does not appear to have a photometric variability above 2 mmag. With the possible exception of the variability of Kn 61, all other variability behaviour, would not easily have been detected from the ground. We conclude, based on very low numbers, that there may be many more close binary or close binary products to be discovered with ultra-high-precision photometry. With a larger number of high-precision photometric observations, we will be able to determine how much higher than the currently known 15 per cent, the short-period binary fraction for central stars of PN is likely to be.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 03/2015; 448(4):3587-3602. DOI:10.1093/mnras/stv249 · 5.11 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In an effort to better understand the details of the stellar structure and evolution of metal poor stars, the Gemini North telescope was used on two occasions to take speckle imaging data of a sample of known spectroscopic binary stars and other nearby stars in order to search for and resolve close companions. The observations were obtained using the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument, which takes data in two filters simultaneously. The results presented here are of 90 observations of 23 systems in which one or more companions was detected, and 6 stars where no companion was detected to the limit of the camera capabilities at Gemini. In the case of the binary and multiple stars, these results are then further analyzed to make first orbit determinations in five cases, and orbit refinements in four other cases. Mass information is derived, and since the systems span a range in metallicity, a study is presented that compares our results with the expected trend in total mass as derived from the most recent Yale isochrones as a function of metal abundance. These data suggest that metal-poor main-sequence stars are less massive at a given color than their solar-metallicity analogues in a manner consistent with that predicted from the theory.
    The Astronomical Journal 03/2015; 149(5). DOI:10.1088/0004-6256/149/5/151 · 4.02 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: \We present the sixth catalog of Kepler candidate planets based on nearly 4 years of high precision photometry. This catalog builds on the legacy of previous catalogs released by the Kepler project and includes 1493 new Kepler Objects of Interest (KOIs) of which 554 are planet candidates, and 131 of these candidates have best fit radii <1.5 R_earth. This brings the total number of KOIs and planet candidates to 7305 and 4173 respectively. We suspect that many of these new candidates at the low signal-to-noise limit may be false alarms created by instrumental noise, and discuss our efforts to identify such objects. We re-evaluate all previously published KOIs with orbital periods of >50 days to provide a consistently vetted sample that can be used to improve planet occurrence rate calculations. We discuss the performance of our planet detection algorithms, and the consistency of our vetting products. The full catalog is publicly available at the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
    The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 02/2015; 217(2). DOI:10.1088/0067-0049/217/2/31 · 11.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Kepler mission discovered 2842 exoplanet candidates with 2 years of data. We provide updates to the Kepler planet candidate sample based upon 3 years (Q1-Q12) of data. Through a series of tests to exclude false-positives, primarily caused by eclipsing binary stars and instrumental systematics, 855 additional planetary candidates have been discovered, bringing the total number known to 3697. We provide revised transit parameters and accompanying posterior distributions based on a Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithm for the cumulative catalogue of Kepler Objects of Interest. There are now 130 candidates in the cumulative catalogue that receive less than twice the flux the Earth receives and more than 1100 have a radius less than 1.5 Rearth. There are now a dozen candidates meeting both criteria, roughly doubling the number of candidate Earth analogs. A majority of planetary candidates have a high probability of being bonafide planets, however, there are populations of likely false-positives. We discuss and suggest additional cuts that can be easily applied to the catalogue to produce a set of planetary candidates with good fidelity. The full catalogue is publicly available at the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
    The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 01/2015; 217(1). DOI:10.1088/0067-0049/217/1/16 · 11.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Small, cool planets represent the typical end-products of planetary formation. Studying the archi- tectures of these systems, measuring planet masses and radii, and observing these planets' atmospheres during transit directly informs theories of planet assembly, migration, and evolution. Here we report the discovery of three small planets orbiting a bright (Ks = 8.6 mag) M0 dwarf using data collected as part of K2, the new transit survey using the re-purposed Kepler spacecraft. Stellar spectroscopy and K2 photometry indicate that the system hosts three transiting planets with radii 1.5-2.1 R_Earth, straddling the transition region between rocky and increasingly volatile-dominated compositions. With orbital periods of 10-45 days the planets receive just 1.5-10x the flux incident on Earth, making these some of the coolest small planets known orbiting a nearby star; planet d is located near the inner edge of the system's habitable zone. The bright, low-mass star makes this system an excellent laboratory to determine the planets' masses via Doppler spectroscopy and to constrain their atmospheric compositions via transit spectroscopy. This discovery demonstrates the power of K2 and future space-based transit searches to find many fascinating objects of interest.
    The Astrophysical Journal 01/2015; 804(1). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/804/1/10 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We present an investigation of twelve candidate transiting planets from Kepler with orbital periods ranging from 34 to 207 days, selected from initial indications that they are small and potentially in the habitable zone (HZ) of their parent stars. Few of these objects are known. The expected Doppler signals are too small to confirm them by demonstrating that their masses are in the planetary regime. Here we verify their planetary nature by validating them statistically using the BLENDER technique, which simulates large numbers of false positives and compares the resulting light curves with the Kepler photometry. This analysis was supplemented with new follow-up observations (high-resolution optical and near-infrared spectroscopy, adaptive optics imaging, and speckle interferometry), as well as an analysis of the flux centroids. For eleven of them (KOI-0571.05, 1422.04, 1422.05, 2529.02, 3255.01, 3284.01, 4005.01, 4087.01, 4622.01, 4742.01, and 4745.01) we show that the likelihood they are true planets is far greater than that of a false positive, to a confidence level of 99.73% (3 sigma) or higher. For KOI-4427.01 the confidence level is about 99.2% (2.6 sigma). With our accurate characterization of the GKM host stars, the derived planetary radii range from 1.1 to 2.7 R_Earth. All twelve objects are confirmed to be in the HZ, and nine are small enough to be rocky. Excluding three of them that have been previously validated by others, our study doubles the number of known rocky planets in the HZ. KOI-3284.01 (Kepler-438b) and KOI-4742.01 (Kepler-442b) are the planets most similar to the Earth discovered to date when considering their size and incident flux jointly.
    The Astrophysical Journal 01/2015; 800(2). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/800/2/99 · 5.99 Impact Factor
  • Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 12/2014; 126(946):1134-1173. DOI:10.1086/679566 · 3.50 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report the discovery of KOI-1299b, a giant planet ($M_b = 5.41^{+0.32}_{-0.18} M_{\rm Jup}, R_b = 1.145^{+0.036}_{-0.039} R_{\rm Jup}$) transiting an evolved star $(M_\star = 1.32^{+0.10}_{-0.07} M_\odot, R_\star = 4.06^{+0.12}_{-0.08} R_\odot)$ with an orbital period of $P_b = 52.501134^{+0.000070}_{-0.000107}$ days. Radial velocities (RVs) reveal that KOI-1299b orbits its parent star with an eccentricity of $e = 0.5134^{+0.0098}_{-0.0089}$, which we also measure independently with asterodensity profiling ($e=0.507^{+0.039}_{-0.114}$), thereby confirming the validity of asterodensity profiling on this particular evolved star. The well determined planetary properties and unusually large mass also make this planet an important benchmark for theoretical models of super-Jupiter formation. Long-term RV monitoring detected the presence of a non-transiting outer planet (KOI-1299c; $M_c \sin{i_c} = 2.43^{+0.22}_{-0.24} M_{\rm Jup}, P_c = 406.2^{+3.9}_{-2.5}$ days), and adaptive optics imaging revealed a nearby (0.87"), faint companion (KOI-1299B) that is a physically bound M dwarf. The host star exhibits high S/N asteroseismic oscillations, which enable precise measurements of the stellar mass, radius and age. Analysis of the rotational splitting of the oscillation modes additionally reveals the stellar spin axis to be nearly edge-on, which suggests that the stellar spin is likely well-aligned with the orbit of the transiting planet. Despite its long period, the obliquity of the 52.5-day orbit may have been shaped by star-planet interaction (SPI) in a manner similar to hot Jupiter systems, and we present observational and theoretical evidence to support this scenario. Finally, as a short-period outlier among giant planets orbiting giant stars, study of KOI-1299b may help explain the distribution of massive planets orbiting giant stars interior to 1 AU.
    The Astrophysical Journal 11/2014; 803(2). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/803/2/49 · 5.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: High-resolution ground-based optical speckle and near-infrared adaptive optics images are taken to search for stars in close angular proximity to host stars of candidate planets identified by the NASA Kepler Mission. Neighboring stars are a potential source of false positive signals. These stars also blend into Kepler light curves, affecting estimated planet properties, and are important for an understanding of planets in multiple star systems. Deep images with high angular resolution help to validate candidate planets by excluding potential background eclipsing binaries as the source of the transit signals. A study of 18 Kepler Object of Interest stars hosting a total of 28 candidate and validated planets is presented. Validation levels are determined for 18 planets against the likelihood of a false positive from a background eclipsing binary. Most of these are validated at the 99% level or higher, including 5 newly-validated planets in two systems: Kepler-430 and Kepler-431. The stellar properties of the candidate host stars are determined by supplementing existing literature values with new spectroscopic characterizations. Close neighbors of 7 of these stars are examined using multi-wavelength photometry to determine their nature and influence on the candidate planet properties. Most of the close neighbors appear to be gravitationally-bound secondaries, while a few are best explained as closely co-aligned field stars. Revised planet properties are derived for each candidate and validated planet, including cases where the close neighbors are the potential host stars.
    The Astronomical Journal 11/2014; 149(2). DOI:10.1088/0004-6256/149/2/55 · 4.02 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: This article summarizes a workshop held on March, 2014, on the potential of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to revolutionize our knowledge of the physical properties of exoplanets through transit observations. JWST's unique combination of high sensitivity and broad wavelength coverage will enable the accurate measurement of transits with high signal-to-noise. Most importantly, JWST spectroscopy will investigate planetary atmospheres to determine atomic and molecular compositions, to probe vertical and horizontal structure, and to follow dynamical evolution, i.e. exoplanet weather. JWST will sample a diverse population of planets of varying masses and densities in a wide variety of environments characterized by a range of host star masses and metallicities, orbital semi-major axes and eccentricities. A broad program of exoplanet science could use a substantial fraction of the overall JWST mission.

Publication Stats

7k Citations
1,745.71 Total Impact Points


  • 2011–2015
    • NASA
      Вашингтон, West Virginia, United States
    • Space Telescope Science Institute
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
  • 2004–2015
    • National Optical Astronomy Observatory
      Tucson, Arizona, United States
    • Universities Space Research Association
      Houston, Texas, United States
  • 2014
    • University of Texas at Austin
      • Department of Astronomy
      Austin, Texas, United States
    • University of Liège
      • Department of Astrophysics, Geophysics and Oceanography
      Luik, Walloon Region, Belgium
  • 2012–2014
    • SETI Institute
      Mountain View, California, United States
  • 2013
    • University of California, Santa Cruz
      • Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
      Santa Cruz, California, United States
  • 2010–2012
    • Bay Area Environmental Research Institute
      Sonoma, California, United States
  • 1995–2011
    • University of California, Berkeley
      • • Department of Astronomy
      • • Space Sciences Laboratory
      Berkeley, California, United States
  • 2009
    • Universidad de La Laguna
      • Department of Astrophysics
      San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Canary Islands, Spain
  • 1997–2009
    • University of Wyoming
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Laramie, WY, United States
  • 2008
    • NOAA Fisheries
      Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
    • University of Maryland, Baltimore County
      • Department of Physics
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
    • University of California, Santa Barbara
      • Department of Physics
      Santa Barbara, California, United States
  • 2003–2008
    • University of California, Riverside
      Riverside, California, United States
    • University of Alaska Anchorage
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Anchorage, Alaska, United States
  • 1989–2008
    • Planetary Science Institute
      Tucson, Arizona, United States
  • 1990–2007
    • University of Washington Seattle
      • Department of Astronomy
      Seattle, Washington, United States
  • 2006
    • California Institute of Technology
      • Spitzer Science Center
      Pasadena, California, United States
    • New Mexico State University
      • Department of Astronomy
      Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States
  • 2005
    • Harvey Mudd College
      • Physics
      Tucson, AZ, United States
  • 1997–2004
    • University of Leicester
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Leiscester, England, United Kingdom
  • 2000
    • The University of Sheffield
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Sheffield, England, United Kingdom
  • 1999
    • University of Florida
      • Department of Astronomy
      Gainesville, Florida, United States
  • 1996
    • University of Cape Town
      • Department of Astronomy
      Cape Town, Province of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • 1994
    • Arizona State University
      Phoenix, Arizona, United States