Susan Mullally is a Senior Archive Scientist for the MAST at STScI. She is an astronomer who likes working with time series data and improving the reliability of exoplanet catalogs.

The Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) at STScI introduces a new way to explore the archive’s exoplanet data: exo.MAST. For confirmed planets and planet candidates, the web interface brings together planetary parameters with a filterable list of the data products held by MAST and visualizations of those data.

The user starts with a single search bar that autocompletes to the confirmed exoplanet, Kepler Object of Interest, or TESS threshold crossing event (TCE) as the user types.

The result is a targeted cone search of MAST data at the coordinates of the planet’s host star at the bottom of the screen. Star, planet, and orbital properties are shown at the top-left and various data visualizations are shown on the top-right. For confirmed planets, users can choose to see this catalog data from either the or the NASA exoplanet archive.

On the right, there are choices of several visualizations of the data. By default you are shown the data coverage of the MAST-held observations phase folded at the orbital period of the planet, if known. Selecting observations on this plot will filter the MAST holdings in the bottom panel.

MAST is the archive for Kepler, K2, and the latest planet hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). For all transit signals found by the TESS or Kepler pipeline, the mission provides the detrended light curve and a fit to the transit signal. Exo.MAST takes these data and gives scalable and zoomable plots of the most recent detrended light curve and transit model. These plots can also be obtained via API so that they can be embedded into your web page. For example, here is the folded light curve for WASP-18 b, a Jupiter-sized planet observed by TESS.

From the related links tab, there is a link to ADS with a pre-populated search of the literature for the planet and the host star to help the users dig deeper into the scientific literature. For TESS and Kepler exoplanets, this tab will also link to the reports used by those missions to review the transit signal before deciding if it’s a candidate or confirmed planet.

For exoplanets that have atmospheric characterization measurements, exo.MAST gives you access to the Space Telescope Archive of Transiting Exoplanet Spectra (STATES), which is a database of published transmission and emission spectra started by Dr. Hannah Wakeford. The data are plotted and are available for direct download. The STATES measurements are linked to the source paper and to the observations hosted within the archive so users can directly download and analyze the data themselves.

In the near future, MAST will be hosting the exoplanet characterization data taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). exo.MAST plans to integrate tools from the exoplanet characterization toolkit (exoCTK) to help users plan their exoplanet observations with JWST more easily.

Have questions or features you would like to see? What data visualizations would be most valuable to you? Comment below or e-mail us at


The partial shutdown of the United States government is have far-reaching affects on US-based astronomers. The American Astronomical Soceity (AAS) sent an action alert to its members today.

“Many federal agencies, including NSF, NASA, and Smithsonian, have been shut down to all but essential operations for 33 days and counting… Hundreds of AAS members are missing paychecks, and the number is growing, including contractors and early-career postdoctoral researchers at NASA and NSF. University and grant-supported AAS members face longer-term uncertainty as NASA grant deadlines and NSF proposal reviews are postponed indefinitely. National observing facilities are preparing to cease operations entirely.”

To provide information and resources for astronomers during the shutdown, the AAS has created a “Shutdown Central” page. This page gives information about financial support, deadlines, and news coverage.

If you have further information to add to the AAS Shutdown Central site, please email


Our guest post today is by Dr. Sarah Gallagher and details important guidelines for hosting effective remote meetings. Dr. Gallagher (@scgQuasar) is the Science Advisor to the President of the Canadian Space Agency and an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

Research groups and committees with members from different institutions or offices are meeting via videoconference increasingly often. Remote meetings save time and money and have a smaller carbon footprint, but if done poorly, videoconferences are significantly less effective than face-to-face meetings. In particular, remote members who aren’t able to hear what’s happening or follow the visuals can become exhausted and frustrated, which inhibits engaged, informed participation. Below are some best practices to set up videoconferences as well as recommendations for interaction protocols to retain the benefits of the in-person experience as much as possible.

The recommendations below assume a common setup where an institution (the host) has an in situ group of several people (3 to 15) and additional members are connecting remotely via laptop and/or telephone.

1. Use good software and invest in the professional version

My favourite is Zoom. I’ve had good experiences with Bluejeans, and both good and bad experiences with Webex. Do not use Skype: it’s not reliable enough. The software should have screen sharing, computer audio and video enabled, and allow for telephone call-ins (preferably with a toll-free number.) The host should have a wired connection and be aware that remote participants may not. All participants must first give their permission if the meeting will be recorded.

2. Build in communication redundancy

Assume that someone will encounter a problem accessing the video-conference system at some point and therefore will need a backup way of communicating, such as texting. To minimize delays, distribute a list of each participant’s email address and cell number in advance so there are alternate ways to communicate within the group. This is particularly useful for remote participants to check in with each other if one of them loses audio or screen sharing becomes too low resolution to read. Live, collaborative note-taking is also useful, particularly if a document needs to be produced following the meeting. My favourite is Google Docs because documents can be accessed directly by participants with a browser and therefore don’t require the videoconferencing software to share.

3. Set up the host conference room with the remote participants in mind

Ideally, a dedicated videoconferencing room should be set up with a camera that can see the whole room and a quality microphone that will clearly pick up the audio from the in situ participants. Quality external speakers are also required. (A large in situ group requires more sophisticated audio equipment such as distributed microphones in the conference room that can be individually muted.) If you have limited resources, invest in the audio equipment first. A camera located close to a large screen with the video feed and any visual presentations will create the most natural experience for the remote participants. A single laptop in front of one of the in situ participants or located in a corner of a conference table DOES NOT WORK, and creates a horrible experience for the remote participants. They generally can’t hear anyone except the person in front of the laptop, and they can’t see most of the in situ participants.

4. Consider time zones when scheduling the meeting

A meeting with participants in three to five adjacent time zones can be scheduled within typical business hours for all parties, between noon and 5:30 p.m. in the easternmost time zone. A meeting with participants in time zones further apart (e.g., Beijing, Toronto, and Paris) means someone will be calling in outside typical business hours. While many people don’t have too many conflicts at 2 a.m. (other than sleeping), insufficient sleep can ruin productivity the following day, and is an imposition on your participants. If this has to happen, then the pain should be distributed so that the people in a particular time zone are not the ones who are always calling in at awkward hours.

5. Schedule regular breaks and keep to the schedule

Remote participants are likely busy with other responsibilities and have only allocated the time scheduled for the meeting to participate in it. The host is not providing them with snack breaks or lunch, but should respect that they need both and stick to the schedule. It can be physically uncomfortable to sit in a chair and stare at a screen for hours. Breaks should be scheduled at most every 90 minutes to allow people to stretch their legs. The videoconferencing system should also be left on during breaks so remote participants can join in with casual conversations if they so choose.

6. Minimize presentations to maximize discussion time

The value of having everyone in one (virtual) place at the same time is the opportunity to develop relationships and discuss the issues at hand. I’ve participated in many advisory meetings where we were bombarded by hours of overly detailed and often redundant presentations because the presentations were not coordinated and the presenters all went over their allotted time because of ineffectual moderating. All visuals and supplementary material should be provided to the participants at least several days in advance. This allows remote participants to use the downloaded slides in case there is a problem with the screen sharing video feed (e.g., it cuts out or the resolution is too low), and also allows participants to review materials in advance so less time can be spent presenting them. Slides should all be numbered with the full name, title, and contact information of the presenter included. Twenty minutes should be considered the maximum time allowed for a presentation. Presentations can be shortened by using a reduced set of big-picture summary slides and including backup slides with further details that can be shown for questions and discussion as needed.

7. Be respectful of the newbies

Invariably some members of the committee will be new. This means they don’t know everyone already, can’t recognize people’s voices when they start talking, and they have no idea who “John” is (and there will likely be two Johns). These are important reasons why videoconferencing works better than teleconferencing for remote meetings. Start with a round of introductions and when each person speaks (at least for the first few times), they should state their name and affiliation. Refer to people not present in the meeting by both first and last names with a frame of reference (e.g., Janelle Monet, Director of Programs), and minimize the use of acronyms without definition. The goal is to bring everyone up to speed quickly with sufficient context to participate fully in the discussion.

8. Moderate the meeting and establish videoconference etiquette at the outset

In general, it works better if the Chair (who may be remote) is not also managing the logistics of the meeting. An in situ moderator should be appointed to set up the meeting and manage the connections, etc. Testing connections prior to the start of the meeting is a good idea, particularly for people using the system for the first time. At the start of the meeting, the Chair or moderator should state the expected etiquette, including the recommendations in point seven. In addition, remote participants should mute themselves when they are not talking to minimize background noise: even paper shuffling and typing can be distracting. Headphones help reduce echoes. The in situ moderator should monitor problems such as audio dropping out or poor camera sightlines. It’s useful to have private chats enabled so remote participants can inform the moderator when there are problems without disrupting the meeting. For larger meetings that require a more formal structure, participants can virtually “raise their hands” and the moderator can call on people in order. This gives everyone an opportunity to contribute without interrupting each other; it can be particularly difficult for remote participants to cut in and be heard.

These best practice guidelines were specifically inspired and informed by my experience on several advisory committees that evaluated the performance of and made recommendations to institutions that serve scientist user communities. Poor videoconferencing implementation has a negative impact on the experience of the participants and can make serving on such committees inefficient and frustrating. Institutions that respect the time of members (who are generally experts volunteering their effort) and optimize their experience will obtain the best advice.


It’s that time of year again: The 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society is nearly upon us. To make the most of your time at the meeting, we at AstroBetter would like to remind you of some resources available on the blog and wiki.

First, the post that everyone attending a winter AAS meeting should read (even if you’re not a first-timer), Jason Wright’s guide to Getting the Most Out of AAS Meetings. This resource is especially useful for students attending their first AAS meeting!

This post includes specific sections regarding harassment and the wonderful Astronomy Allies program. ALL ATTENDEES need to familiarize themselves with the AAS Anti-Harassment Policy. AAS Meetings are meetings of professional astronomers and we should all behave as such.

Secondly, if you are giving a presentation, whether it be a talk or a poster, the AstroBetter Wiki has a number of resources to help you with your Presentation Skills.

Third, if you have an idea for a fun, small project you’d like to put together, we highly recommend that you check out Hack Together Day on Thursday, January 10. A hack day is a day where we come together to write code or work on some other project, fast. The idea is to design a do-able project and fully execute it in one day. Or at least go down trying. Come with a project, or come with deployable skills, ready to deploy.

If you have a Twitter account, you can also tweet with the #AAS233 hashtag to follow the goings-on throughout the conference. Before the conference, you should also check out Abigail Stevens‘ guest posts on using Twitter at Conferences, both for Non-Tweeters and Twitter Users.

Most importantly, be respectful of everyone you meet or encounter. Strive to be inclusive and non-discriminatory. It makes both the meeting and our field better for all of us!

If you know of any other good resources, or found any of ours particularly useful, please leave a note in the comments.


An American perspective of astro graduate school outside the US II: PhD

by Guest December 17, 2018

This is the second of two guest posts contributed by Dr. Abbie Stevens, who completed her Masters at the University of Alberta in Canada and her Doctorate at the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She is now an NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics postdoctoral fellow at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. In […]


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A Workshop That’s All Coffee Breaks: Astro Hack Week

by Guest November 26, 2018

Daniela Huppenkothen is the Associate Director at the Institute for Data-Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology (DIRAC) at the University of Washington and a Data Science Fellow at the University of Washington’s eScience Institute, where she works on astrostatistics for astronomical time series, and is interested in everything from asteroids to black holes. She is […]


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An American perspective of astro graduate school outside the US I: Masters

by Guest November 19, 2018

This post is the first of two guest posts contributed by Dr. Abbie Stevens, who completed her Masters at the University of Alberta in Canada and her Doctorate at the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She is now an NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics postdoctoral fellow at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. […]


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Citations to Astronomy Journals 2: Ranking the Journals [Cross-post]

by Joanna Bridge October 22, 2018

This article is the second of a three-part series that is cross-posted from the ADS blog. In this series, the ADS team has performed an analysis of citations to astronomy journals over the last 20 years. This post is written by ADS project scientist Michael J. Kurtz and Edwin Henneken, who works on the ADS system […]


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Predatory Publishers in Astronomy and How to Identify Them

by Guest October 13, 2018

Our guest post today is from Dr. Michael Brown of Monash University, Australia, where he studies the evolution of active galactic nuclei and the growth of galaxies over cosmic time. He has written several articles on the topic of predatory publishers and conferences. Have you checked your spam folder recently? A decade ago it may […]


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Citations to Astronomy Journals 1: The growth of interdisciplinarity [Cross-post]

by Joanna Bridge October 8, 2018

This article is the first in a three-part series that is cross-posted from the ADS blog. In this series, the ADS team has performed an analysis of citations to astronomy journals over the last 20 years. This post is written by ADS project scientist Michael J. Kurtz and Edwin Henneken, who works on the ADS system […]


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