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Howard Isaacson

Research Scientist


  • 213 Campbell Hall


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Research Interests

  I am interested in the study of planets that orbit around stars other than our sun, aka exoplanets. As part of NASA's Kepler Space Mission and the California Planet Search team, I work to characterize the size, mass, density and composition of the exoplanets discovered that are the most like the Earth. Our team accomplishes this by combining photometric measurements of stars' brightness collected by Kepler with radial velocity measurements of individual stars collected with the Keck Telescope and HIRES spectrometer located on the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The overarching goal of my research is to try to find planets that most resemble the Earth in their size, compotion, and distance from their host star. 

   I am also interested in stellar activity, specifically measured by the spectral features produced in the chromospheres of stars. By studying these features, we can improve our radial velocity measurement precision, and uncover patterns in other stars that are similar to the different stellar activity cycles that we observe in the sun. Stellar activity on timescales of days, months, and years can be used to determine the rotation period, and timescale of stellar activity cycles. 

  My collaboraters include Geoff Marcy, Andrew Howard, Erik Petigura, Lauren Weiss, Lea Hirsch, BJ Fulton, and Evan Sinukoff. 

Personal Interests

In my free time I enjoy reading about both science and science fiction, and promoting Astronomy to the public. I also enjoying playing soccer, cycling and traveling.


I was born and raised under the dark skies of Butte Montana. My interest in Astronomy began when I was shown Saturn through a telescope by Lloyd Magnuson, my middle school science teacher. After meandering through interest in different sciences, I landed at the Physics and Astronomy Department at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California. There I collected both and undergraduate and Master's Degree working with Dr. Debra Fischer, focusing my research on exoplanet detection and stellar activity measurements. After graduation, I began with working at UC Berkeley on the, then recently launched, Kepler Space Mission operated out of NASA Ames Research Center. While the Kepler Space Telescope has ended its primary mission, it is still working with the new moniker K2, and there is still much work to be done.


Breakthrough Listen Initiative

Breakthrough Listen Initiative

Lead: Andrew Siemion

The Breakthrough Listen Initiative, funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, is the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The project is using the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia to search for radio transmissions from advanced civilizations.  In addition, the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory is being used to search for optical laser transmissions from other technological civilizations.

More about Breakthrough Listen Initiative

Automated Planet Finder

The solar spectrum viewed through the APF and Levy Spectrometer.

The Automated Planet Finder (APF) is a robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope stationed at Lick Observatory designed to assist with the search for extrasolar planets. The APF operates by targeting preprogrammed stars and observing them nightly over the course of several months in efforts to detect stellar motion and locate habitable planets.

More about Automated Planet Finder