Steve B. Howell

University of Liège, Luik, Walloon Region, Belgium

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Publications (572)1754.71 Total impact

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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; 710:325-331. · 6.73 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.
    11/2014;
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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.
    11/2014;
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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.
    11/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Hot Jupiter systems provide unique observational constraints for migration models in multiple systems and binaries. We report on the discovery of the Kepler-424 (KOI-214) two-planet system, which consists of a transiting hot Jupiter (Kepler-424b) in a 3.31-d orbit accompanied by a more massive outer companion in an eccentric (e=0.3) 223-d orbit. The outer giant planet, Kepler-424c, is not detected to transit the host star. The masses of both planets and the orbital parameters for the second planet were determined using precise radial velocity (RV) measurements from the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) and its High Resolution Spectrograph (HRS). In stark contrast to smaller planets, hot Jupiters are predominantly found to be lacking any nearby additional planets, the appear to be "lonely" (e.g. Steffen et al.~2012). This might be a consequence of a highly dynamical past of these systems. The Kepler-424 planetary system is a system with a hot Jupiter in a multiple system, similar to upsilon Andromedae. We also present our results for Kepler-422 (KOI-22), Kepler-77 (KOI-127; Gandolfi et al.~2013), Kepler-43 (KOI-135; Bonomo et al.~2012), and Kepler-423 (KOI-183). These results are based on spectroscopic data collected with the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT), the Keck 1 telescope and HET. For all systems we rule out false positives based on various follow-up observations, confirming the planetary nature of these companions. We performed a comparison with planetary evolutionary models which indicate that these five hot Jupiters have a heavy elements content between 20 and 120 M_Earth.
    09/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: The discovery of variable and transient sources is an essential product of synoptic surveys. The alert stream will require filtering for personalized criteria -- a process managed by a functionality commonly described as a Broker. In order to understand quantitatively the magnitude of the alert generation and Broker tasks, we have undertaken an analysis of the most numerous types of variable targets in the sky -- Galactic stars, QSOs, AGNs and asteroids. It is found that LSST will be capable of discovering ~10^4 high latitude |b| > 20 deg) variable stars per night at the beginning of the survey. (The corresponding number for |b| < 20 deg is 2 orders of magnitude larger, but subject to caveats concerning extinction and crowding.) However, the number of new discoveries may well drop below 100/night within less than 1 year. The same analysis applied to GAIA clarifies the complementarity of the GAIA and LSST surveys. Discovery of variable galactic nuclei (AGNs) and Quasi Stellar Objects (QSOs) are each predicted to begin at ~3000 per night, and decrease by 50X over 4 years. SNe are expected at ~1100/night, and after several survey years will dominate the new variable discovery rate. LSST asteroid discoveries will start at > 10^5 per night, and if orbital determination has a 50% success rate per epoch, will drop below 1000/night within 2 years.
    The Astrophysical Journal 09/2014; 796(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Using the known detection limits for high-resolution imaging observations and the statistical properties of true binary and line-of-sight companions, we estimate the binary fraction of {\it Kepler} exoplanet host stars. Our speckle imaging programs at the WIYN 3.5-m and Gemini North 8.1-m telescopes have observed over 600 {\it Kepler} objects of interest (KOIs) and detected 49 stellar companions within $\sim$1 arcsecond. Assuming binary stars follow a log-normal period distribution for an effective temperature range of 3,000 to 10,000 K, then the model predicts that the vast majority of detected sub-arcsecond companions are long period ($P>50$ years), gravitationally bound companions. In comparing the model predictions to the number of real detections in both observational programs, we conclude that the overall binary fraction of host stars is similar to the 40-50\% rate observed for field stars.
    09/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: We present photometry of 11 and spectroscopy of 35 potential cataclysmic variables from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey and vsnet-alerts. The photometry results include quasi-periodic oscillations during the decline of V1363 Cyg, nightly accretion changes in the likely Polar (AM Herculis binary) SDSS J1344+20, eclipses in SDSS J2141+05 with an orbital period of 76+/-2 min, and possible eclipses in SDSS J2158+09 at an orbital period near 100 min. Time-resolved spectra reveal short orbital periods near 80 min for SDSS J0206+20, 85 min for SDSS J1502+33, and near 100 min for CSS J0015+26, RXS J0150+37, SDSS J1132+62, SDSS J2154+15 and SDSS J2158+09. The prominent HeII line and velocity amplitude of SDSS J2154+15 are consistent with a Polar nature for this object, while the lack of this line and a low velocity amplitude argue against this classification for RXS J0150+37. Single spectra of 10 objects were obtained near outburst and the rest near quiescence, confirming the dwarf novae nature of these objects.
    The Astronomical Journal 07/2014; 148(4). · 4.97 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We present a preliminary analysis of the cool pulsating white dwarf GD 1212, enabled by more than 11.5 days of space-based photometry obtained during an engineering test of the two-reaction-wheel-controlled Kepler spacecraft. We detect at least 19 independent pulsation modes, ranging from 828.2-1220.8 s, and at least 17 nonlinear combination frequencies of those independent pulsations. Our longest uninterrupted light curve, 9.0 days in length, evidences coherent difference frequencies at periods inaccessible from the ground, up to 14.5 hr, the longest-period signals ever detected in a pulsating white dwarf. These results mark some of the first science to come from a two-wheel-controlled Kepler spacecraft, proving the capability for unprecedented discoveries afforded by extending Kepler observations to the ecliptic.
    The Astrophysical Journal 05/2014; 789(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The quest for Earth-like planets is a major focus of current exoplanet research. Although planets that are Earth-sized and smaller have been detected, these planets reside in orbits that are too close to their host star to allow liquid water on their surfaces. We present the detection of Kepler-186f, a 1.11 ± 0.14 Earth-radius planet that is the outermost of five planets, all roughly Earth-sized, that transit a 0.47 ± 0.05 solar-radius star. The intensity and spectrum of the star's radiation place Kepler-186f in the stellar habitable zone, implying that if Kepler-186f has an Earth-like atmosphere and water at its surface, then some of this water is likely to be in liquid form.
    Science 04/2014; 344(6181):277-80. · 31.20 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Novalike cataclysmic variables have persistently high mass transfer rates and prominent steady state accretion disks. We present an analysis of infrared observations of twelve novalikes obtained from the Two Micron All Sky Survey, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer All Sky Survey. The presence of an infrared excess at >3-5 microns over the expectation of a theoretical steady state accretion disk is ubiquitous in our sample. The strength of the infrared excess is not correlated with orbital period, but shows a statistically significant correlation (but shallow trend) with system inclination that might be partially (but not completely) linked to the increasing view of the cooler outer accretion disk and disk rim at higher inclinations. We discuss the possible origin of the infrared excess in terms of emission from bremsstrahlung or circumbinary dust, with either mechanism facilitated by the mass outflows (e.g., disk wind/corona, accretion stream overflow, and so on) present in novalikes. Our comparison of the relative advantages and disadvantages of either mechanism for explaining the observations suggests that the situation is rather ambiguous, largely circumstantial, and in need of stricter observational constraints.
    The Astrophysical Journal 03/2014; 786(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Kepler mission has discovered over 2500 exoplanet candidates in the first two years of spacecraft data, with approximately 40% of them in candidate multi-planet systems. The high rate of multiplicity combined with the low rate of identified false-positives indicates that the multiplanet systems contain very few false-positive signals due to other systems not gravitationally bound to the target star (Lissauer, J. J., et al., 2012, ApJ 750, 131). False positives in the multi- planet systems are identified and removed, leaving behind a residual population of candidate multi-planet transiting systems expected to have a false-positive rate less than 1%. We present a sample of 340 planetary systems that contain 851 planets that are validated to substantially better than the 99% confidence level; the vast majority of these have not been previously verified as planets. We expect ~2 unidentified false-positives making our sample of planet very reliable. We present fundamental planetary properties of our sample based on a comprehensive analysis of Kepler light curves and ground-based spectroscopy and high-resolution imaging. Since we do not require spectroscopy or high-resolution imaging for validation, some of our derived parameters for a planetary system may be systematically incorrect due to dilution from light due to additional stars in the photometric aperture. None the less, our result nearly doubles the number of verified exoplanets.
    02/2014; 784(1).
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    ABSTRACT: The K2 mission will make use of the Kepler spacecraft and its assets to expand upon Kepler's groundbreaking discoveries in the fields of exoplanets and astrophysics through new and exciting observations. K2 will use an innovative way of operating the spacecraft to observe target fields along the ecliptic for the next 2-3 years. Early science commissioning observations have shown an estimated photometric precision near 400 ppm in a single 30 minute observation, and a 6-hour photometric precision of 80 ppm (both at V=12). The K2 mission offers simultaneous observation of thousands of objects at a precision far better than is achievable from the ground. Ecliptic fields will be observed for approximately 75-days enabling a unique exoplanet survey which fills the gaps in duration and sensitivity between the Kepler and TESS missions, and offers pre-launch exoplanet target identification for JWST transit spectroscopy. Astrophysics observations with K2 will include studies of young open clusters, bright stars, galaxies, supernovae, and asteroseismology.
    Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 02/2014; 126(938). · 3.69 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report on the masses, sizes, and orbits of the planets orbiting 22 Kepler stars. There are 49 planet candidates around these stars, including 42 detected through transits and 7 revealed by precise Doppler measurements of the host stars. Based on an analysis of the Kepler brightness measurements, along with high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy, Doppler spectroscopy, and (for 11 stars) asteroseismology, we establish low false-positive probabilities for all of the transiting planets (41 of 42 have a false-positive probability under 1%), and we constrain their sizes and masses. Most of the transiting planets are smaller than 3X the size of Earth. For 16 planets, the Doppler signal was securely detected, providing a direct measurement of the planet's mass. For the other 26 planets we provide either marginal mass measurements or upper limits to their masses and densities; in many cases we can rule out a rocky composition. We identify 6 planets with densities above 5 g/cc, suggesting a mostly rocky interior for them. Indeed, the only planets that are compatible with a purely rocky composition are smaller than ~2 R_earth. Larger planets evidently contain a larger fraction of low-density material (H, He, and H2O).
    01/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Though there are now many hundreds of confirmed exoplanets known, the binarity of exoplanet host stars is not well understood. This is particularly true of host stars which harbor a giant planet in a highly eccentric orbit since these are more likely to have had a dramatic dynamical history which transferred angular momentum to the planet. Here we present observations of four exoplanet host stars which utilize the excellent resolving power of the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI) on the Gemini North telescope. Two of the stars are giants and two are dwarfs. Each star is host to a giant planet with an orbital eccentricity > 0.5 and whose radial velocity data contain a trend in the residuals to the Keplerian orbit fit. These observations rule out stellar companions 4-8 magnitudes fainter than the host star at passbands of 692nm and 880nm. The resolution and field-of-view of the instrument result in exclusion radii of 0.05-1.4 arcsecs which excludes stellar companions within several AU of the host star in most cases. We further provide new radial velocities for the HD 4203 system which confirm that the linear trend previously observed in the residuals is due to an additional planet. These results place dynamical constraints on the source of the planet's eccentricities, constraints on additional planetary companions, and informs the known distribution of multiplicity amongst exoplanet host stars.
    The Astrophysical Journal 01/2014; 785(2). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Kepler mission has to date found almost 6,000 planetary transit-like signals, utilizing three years of data for over 170,000 stars at extremely high photometric precision. Due to its design, contamination from eclipsing binaries, variable stars, and other transiting planets results in a significant number of these signals being false positives. This directly affects the determination of the occurrence rate of Earth-like planets in our Galaxy, as well as other planet population statistics. In order to detect as many of these false positives as possible, we perform ephemeris matching among all transiting planet, eclipsing binary, and variable star sources. We find that 685 Kepler Objects of Interest - 12% of all those analyzed - are false positives as a result of contamination, due to 409 unique parent sources. Of these, 118 have not previously been identified by other methods. We estimate that ~35% of KOIs are false positives due to contamination, when performing a first-order correction for observational bias. Comparing single-planet candidate KOIs to multi-planet candidate KOIs, we find an observed false positive fraction due to contamination of 16% and 2.4% respectively, bolstering the existing evidence that multi-planet KOIs are significantly less likely to be false positives. We also analyze the parameter distributions of the ephemeris matches and derive a simple model for the most common type of contamination in the Kepler field. We find that the ephemeris matching technique is able to identify low signal-to-noise false positives that are difficult to identify with other vetting techniques. We expect false positive KOIs to become more frequent when analyzing more quarters of Kepler data, and note that many of them will not be able to be identified based on Kepler data alone.
    The Astronomical Journal 01/2014; 147(5). · 4.97 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Using a sample of 220 Exoplanet host stars in the Kepler field for which spectroscopic properties have been determined, we examine their spatial, physical, and time variable properties. Covering effective temperatures from 4670K to 6400K (K4 to F4) and masses from 0.7 to 1.4 M-sun, this sample represents host stars covering the entire Kepler field of view. The majority of the host stars contain one or more Earth-sized exoplanet and range in log g from 4.0 to 4.7 and [Fe/H] from -02.4 to +0.3. Using Yale-Yonsei isochrone fits and photometric information form the Howell-Everett UBV survey of the Kepler field, we examine a complete set of parameters for these stars including their likely residence in the thin or thick disk of the Galaxy. the variability of this sample, in terms of time sale and amplitude, is examined as well.
    01/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Educational research magazines are filled with information on learning styles and how they affect the learning process, but few studies have been conducted to specifically look at learning styles exhibited by high school science students. This project attempted to obtain a general “snapshot” of learning styles found in the high school science classroom, and then compare that to one derived from a subgroup of highly motivated science students involved in a NITARP student team. Control students (N=54) from elective science courses at four high schools (urban, suburban, and rural) were administered the Felder Learning Style (FLS) assessment and rated on Likert scales in four learning constructs: Active/Reflective, Sensing/Intuitive, Visual/Verbal, and Sequential/Global. NITARP student team members (N=7) were given the FLS before project work began, and then re-tested approximately three months later, after project work concluded. Chi Square Analysis showed no clear significant difference between the general group and the NITARP group (p = .52). Both groups tended to be very visual and sequential, but more reflective than active. The results suggest several concerns that science teachers may need to address: (1) Research shows best practice science classes often are hands on, yet a majority of students are more reflective than active; (2) Big ideas tend to be better understood by global students, but a majority are more sequential; (3) Since a majority of students are visual, information given verbally may not be very effective. Further research is indicated for these areas of discontinuity. This research was conducted as part of the NASA/IPAC Training in Archival Research Project (NITARP) and was funded by NASA Astrophysics Data Program and Archive Outreach funds.
    01/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Utilizing Kepler long cadence data from quarters 4 through 11, a blind study was performed of the long period (>1 day) variability of 200 giant stars previously identified as hydrogen shell burning (Red Giant Branch - RGB) giants or helium core burning (Red Clump) giants by the Bedding et al. (2011) asteroseismology study. By focusing on periods between 1 and 30 days, a relationship was found between the amplitude of the strongest period and the red giant evolutionary state. A second blind test using this diagnostic was able to correctly predict the evolutionary state of the red giants -RGB or Red Clump - with 74% accuracy. The goal was to find a diagnostic that would allow for ground based differentiation, but the typical amplitudes were less than 0.5 mmag. Understanding this difference may lead to better understanding of the red giant evolutionary process. This research made use of the NASA Exoplanet Archive and was made possible through the NASA/IPAC Training in Archival Research Project (NITARP), funded by NASA Astrophysics Data Program and Archive Outreach funds.
    01/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Collected data for stars, galaxies, asteroids and SNe are used to predict the LSST discovery rate for variable targets. The rates begin very high, but with successful identifications, the discovery rates can decline rapidly over 1-2 years. This front-loading of discoveries of the most numerous types will facilitate the study of those targets, and will simplify the discovery of less common variables.
    01/2014;

Publication Stats

3k Citations
1,754.71 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2014
    • University of Liège
      • Department of Astrophysics, Geophysics and Oceanography
      Luik, Walloon Region, Belgium
  • 2012–2014
    • SETI Institute
      Mountain View, California, United States
  • 2013
    • NASA
      Washington, West Virginia, United States
    • Honolulu University
      Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
    • 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
  • 2011
    • Space Telescope Science Institute
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
    • Yale University
      • Department of Astronomy
      New Haven, CT, United States
    • University of California, Berkeley
      • Department of Astronomy
      Berkeley, California, United States
  • 2004–2011
    • National Optical Astronomy Observatory
      Tucson, Arizona, United States
    • University of Leicester
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Leiscester, England, United Kingdom
  • 2009
    • Universidad de La Laguna
      • Department of Astrophysics
      San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Canary Islands, Spain
  • 1996–2009
    • University of Wyoming
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Laramie, WY, United States
    • University of Cape Town
      • Department of Astronomy
      Cape Town, Province of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • 1994–2009
    • The University of Arizona
      • • Department of Astronomy
      • • Department of Planetary Sciences
      Tucson, Arizona, United States
  • 1989–2009
    • Planetary Science Institute
      Tucson, Arizona, United States
  • 2008
    • University of California, Santa Barbara
      • Department of Physics
      Santa Barbara, California, United States
    • University of Maryland, Baltimore County
      • Department of Physics
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
  • 2007–2008
    • University of California, Riverside
      Riverside, California, United States
    • 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
  • 2001
    • Villanova University
      Norristown, Pennsylvania, United States
  • 1999
    • University of Florida
      • Department of Astronomy
      Gainesville, Florida, United States