Charles A. Beichman

Executive Director, Michelson Science Center, California Inst. of Technology, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Disclaimer: "Opinions expressed on this page are my own,  not those of NASA, the California Inst. of  Technology, or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory."


My research goals include searching for planets and evidence for planets such as debris disks  around nearby young stars. Additionally, I am interested in understanding the formation and evolution of  distant infrared-bright galaxies and their relationship to the Cosmic Infrared Background.  These interests have led to my involvement in  a number of  space-based and ground-based astronomical missions, including:


 This is only a minor roadblock in a 2500 year quest.


Some Topical Items:

CAB Presentation to Astrophysics Subcommittee of NASA Advisory Committee (NAC) 7/7/2006

New York Times on Space Science Cuts, including TPF (3/2/2006)

Nature Article and Editorial About NASA Cuts and TPF

CAB Wall Street Journal Op-Ed (8/2005)

Comparative Planetology (Protostars and Planets V)

Update on Finding Terrestrial Planets with SIM

Submission to HST-JWST Transition Panel.
Update on Selection of Terrestrial Planet Finder-C (Coronagraph)


Elizabeth K.  Holmes  (1973-2004)
All of Beth's friends and colleagues were deeply saddened
by her sudden  death in March 2004.  Beth had been working
with me on a Spitzer program to study debris disks around nearby stars.
Relevant sites include a memorial by her fiancé, Todd Rope, and
her official AAS Obituary.

As science instrument representative and eventually project scientist on the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), I was privileged to take part in the  NASA, UK, Dutch experiment that performed the first sensitive survey of the infrared sky in 1983.

gallery of IRAS images shows  some of the spectacular data obtained with the satellite. IRAS data can be found at the GATOR service at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC).


Text Box:  2MASS
Following the success of the IRAS survey, a number of astronomers began planning for a ground-based survey to map the entire sky at shorter wavelengths more easily accessible through the Earth's atmosphere. Observations began in 1997, were completed in 2001, and the final catalogs and images were released in 2003. 2MASS detected more than 500 million individual objects and produced more than 1 million images. Various collaborators and I used 2MASS to  identify  two new spectral types of stars (L and T brown dwarfs with Kirkpatrick, Reid, Cutri, Skrutskie)  as well as to detect the near-IR Cosmic background (with Cambresy, Reach, Cutri). Here are a few key 2MASS websites:

Data from a recent 2MASS paper (Beichman et al 2003, AJ, 125,2521) relevant to SIRTF surveys of the Lockman Hole is available from the IRSA archive.

2MASS observations of other galaxies have been used by Cambresy  et al 2005 to estimate total extinction on in Milky Way.


Text Box:  SIRTF

The first professional meeting I ever attended as a graduate student as a conference at the Ames Research Center in 1975 on the topic of the Shuttle Infrared Telescope Facility, also known as SIRTF. This mission has evolved into the Space Infrared Telescope Facility and was renamed as the Spitzer Space Telescope after its launch in August 2003, more than a quarter century after that first meeting.  My primary scientific involvement in Spitzer is through the University of Arizona instrument called the Multiband Imaging Photometer for SIRTF (MIPS) which will make observations at 24, 70 and 160 microns. Key projects I am involved  in include:


Recent papers in this area include:

Text Box:  SIM
The primary goal of the Space Interferometer Mission (SIM) is to find planets of a few Earth-masses around nearby stars using the wobble induced in the position of the parent star by the presence of one or more planets. In addition, SIM will carry out an exciting program of fundamental astrophysics.

The goal of the SIM-Planets Around Young Stars (SIM-PLAYS) Key Project  is to find planets around stars like our sun, but ones that are only  a few million years old to understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems (Disk image from Geoff Bryden). The project  involves researchers from around the country in an intensive program of precursor science as well as with observations with SIM starting around 2010.


A brief description of the project can be found here. A listing of potential SIM-PLAYS target stars is also on-line.



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The successor mission to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) will be the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  JPL is the lead center for the mid-IR instrument (MIRI) so I have a close institutional interest in the project. Scientifically, I am a member of the University of Arizona-led team that is developing the near-IR camera (NIRCAM) for JWST. I plan to use JWST to use MIRI and NIRCAM to look  for planets, orbiting disks of dust that may accompany planets (as in this model for the debris disk around Vega from Marc Kuchner), and distant galaxies with unprecedented sensitivity when JWST launches around 2011.


JPL scientist Joe Green and I, along with other members of the NIRCAM team, have worked to design a coronagraph for NIRCAM that will be able to look for hot Jupiters around nearby

young stars.

I have been with the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) since its inception  following the report of the Exploring Neighboring Planetary Systems (ExNPS) study in 1996. The goals of TPF are simple to state --- to find and characterize Earth-sized planets around nearby stars looking for habitable planets and even for signs of life---but devilishly difficult to achieve. We  have had 3 major studies of possible TPF architectures since then. Following assessments of two different designs for TPF --- an IR interferometer and a visible light coronagraph  --- NASA recently announced that  a coronagraph would be the first mission to detect earth-like planets directly with a launch around 2014. This mission would be  followed by an IR interferometer to be developed  jointly  with the European Space Agency for  a launch around 2019. Together, the data from these two wavelength bands would provide a complete characterization of any detected planets as well as a robust search for life.  Descriptions of the overall goal of finding habitable planets around nearby stars and the TPF project can be found in a number of the following articles. The fact that NASA has elected to defer TPF “indefinitely”  should not discourage us in what  is, after all, a 2500 year old quest.



Protostars and Planets V:  Comparative Planetology and the Search for Life Beyond the Solar System

Illustrated PowerPoint Talk at Santa Cruz, Summer 2003

Conference Talks:

Manchester, IAU 2000

BioAstronomy conference at Hamilton Island, Summer 2002

Hubble Legacy Conference  2003

TPF/Darwin Conference Talk in Heidelberg,  Summer 2003
Spring 2004:  Update on Selection of Terrestrial Planet Finder-C (Coronagraph)




Contact Information:
Michelson Science Center
California Inst. of Technology
Phone: 626-395-1996