Laboratory research team awarded AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize

Feb. 17, 2010

Artist’s conception of the multiple planet system HR 8799, initially imaged by Gemini North adaptive optics and confirmed with W.M. Keck Observatory imaging. Gemini Observatory artwork by Lynette Coo (Download Image)

Laboratory research team awarded AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- A Laboratory researcher's paper published in November 2008 is a co-winner of this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Newcomb Cleveland Prize. The paper is one of two outstanding papers published in Science from June 1, 2008 through May 31, 2009.

Bruce Macintosh of the Physics and Life Science Directorate was one of the lead authors of the paper titled, "Direct Imaging of Multiple Planets Orbiting the Star HR 8799," which appeared in the Nov. 28, 2008 edition of Science . Christian Marois, a former LLNL postdoc now at NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada was the other lead author.

Another paper titled "Optical Images of an Exosolar Planet 25 Light-Years From Earth," which also appeared in the Nov. 28, 2008 edition of Science, shares the award. That paper included LLNL author Mike Fitzgerald with Paul Kalas of UC Berkeley serving as the lead author.

Macintosh and Fitzerald are housed in the Lab's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP).

The LLNL paper details how astronomers for the first time took snapshots of a multi-planet solar system, much like ours, orbiting another star. The new solar system orbits a dusty young star named HR8799, which is 140 light years away and about 1.5 times the size of our sun. Three planets, roughly 7 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter, orbit the star.

The paper has now been cited more than 100 times as other researchers attempt to study, model and explain this fascinating solar system.

During the past 10 years, various planet detection techniques have been used to find more than 400 exoplanets. But these methods all have limitations. Most infer the existence of a planet through its influence on the star that it orbits, but don't actually tell scientists anything about the planet other than its mass and orbit. Second, the techniques are all limited to small to moderate planet-star separation, usually less than about 5 astronomical units (one AU is the average distance from the sun to Earth).

In the Macintosh findings, the planets are 24, 37 and 67 times the Earth-sun separation from the host star. The furthest planet in the new system orbits just inside a disk of dusty debris, similar to that produced by the comets of the Kuiper belt of our solar system.

The Newcomb Cleveland Prize includes a medal and $25,000 to be split between the two groups. The authors also will be recognized at the AAAS Annual Meeting this week (Feb. 18-22) in San Diego. This is the oldest AAAS prize and has been awarded since 1923.

The prize will be awarded on Saturday, Feb. 20, at a ceremony during the AAAS meeting.

The AAAS is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science , as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ( is a national security laboratory that develops science and engineering technology and provides innovative solutions to our nation's most important challenges. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.