CANCELED: Through a Forest of Speckles: Imaging Planets Around Nearby Stars

  • Speaker
  • Rebecca Oppenheimer, Ph.D.Curator and Professor, Department of Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences, American Museum of Natural History
Date & Time


About Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures

Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures are free public colloquia centered on four main themes: Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Neuroscience and Autism Science. These curated, high-level scientific talks feature leading scientists and mathematicians and are intended to foster discourse and drive discovery among the broader NYC-area research community. We invite researchers in the area — as well as interested members of the metropolitan public — to join us for this weekly lecture series.

The objects orbiting nearby stars — such as exoplanets and other substellar beasts like gas and dust — can be millionths to hundredths of billionths of times as bright as their host stars. These objects are also in close angular proximity with their host stars due to their distance from our solar system, making them difficult to see. Removing the star’s glare — which often manifests as bright, varying patterns of speckles around the central star — is critical to seeing the surrounding objects and determining their orbits, measuring their atmospheric characteristics and understanding their properties.

In this lecture, Rebecca Oppenheimer will provide an overview of how astronomers over the last 25 years have pioneered techniques to solve the glare problem and mitigate the effects of the forests of sparkles hiding the nature of nearby planetary systems. As a result, astronomers are beginning to open the full zoo of exoplanets to the scrutiny of physics and chemistry (and perhaps biology). Her work has advanced several aspects of this problem, from advanced coronagraphy to speckle suppression to total manipulation of the electric field of the light from the stars that enters a telescope. She’ll describe these efforts and the exciting science they have enabled.


To attend this in-person event, you will need to register in advance and provide:

  • Acceptable proof of vaccination (vaccine card/certificate, a copy or photo of vaccine card/certificate or electronic NYS Excelsior Pass or NJ Docket Pass)
  • Photo ID
  • Eventbrite ticket confirmation email with QR code
  • Simons Foundation Health Screening Questionnaire approval email

Guests are expected to complete these requirements each time they visit the Simons Foundation and entrance will not be granted without this documentation.

On-site registration will not be permitted. Walk-in entry will be denied.

About the Speaker

After obtaining degrees from Columbia University and Caltech, Oppenheimer joined the research staff at the American Museum of Natural History in 2001, where she built a new optics laboratory dedicated to exoplanet imaging. She co-discovered the first substellar object ever seen orbiting another star, leading to a whole new subfield of astrophysics.  Many of the techniques developed and deployed by her group are used in projects worldwide and soon in space.

Advancing Research in Basic Science and MathematicsSubscribe to our newsletters to receive news & updates