Four of the authors awarded the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize for outstanding papers in the journal Science. From left to right, Professors Paul Kalas, Eugene Chiang and James Graham and doctoral candidate Edwin Kite. (Barbara Hoversten/UC Berkeley)
BERKELEY — A picture is worth a thousand words, or so University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Paul Kalas found out when he published a Hubble Space Telescope image of a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut.
Since it appeared in the journal Science in November 2008, "the image of Fomalhaut, its visually striking belt of comet dust and its planet has become an iconic image of a planetary system," said Kalas, an adjunct associate professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley.
Now, that image and the paper in which it was published has won Kalas and his team of planetary paparazzi the 2009 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the most outstanding paper published in Science between June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009. Founded in 1848, the AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and the publisher of Science.
Fomalhaut is a bright star 25 light years from Earth. This image, with light from the central star blocked, shows a vast belt of comet dust that is shaped by the gravitational influence of the exoplanet Fomalhaut b. (Paul Kalas/NASA/ESA)
Kalas and colleagues from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (JPL) and the Goddard Space Flight Center will share the bronze medal and $25,000 purse with a team led by Christian Marois, a former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow now at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. That team simultaneously published images of three planets orbiting the star HR 8799. Both papers appeared online Nov. 13, 2008.
"This is the first time this award has been given in the field of astronomy since 1999," Kalas said. "Considering the number of papers that Science publishes weekly on many vital scientific topics, it’s a tremendous honor to be selected this year."
"These two papers are landmark discoveries, as they report the first definitive, direct imaging of exoplanets: the planets that orbit distant stars,” said Bruce Alberts, Science editor-in-chief. "They result from remarkable technical advances in both imaging and data analysis, which make it possible to separate a planet from its host star. The results are likely to change our view of how planets originate. The ultimate goal is the direct imaging of Earth-like planets, so as to search for biosignature gases. This task will be very much harder, since such planets will not only be considerably smaller and dimmer, but also much closer to a sun-like star. Nevertheless, with this first giant step, it does not appear impossible."