Dr. Rob Zellem

Exoplanet Astronomer

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Investigating Exoplanets!


Ground- and space-based telescopes have identified many hundreds of promising exoplanets, or worlds outside our solar system, whose atmospheres will be studied by the recently-launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In order to study these exoplanets effectively, it is important to have precise knowledge of when they will transit, or pass in front of their host star. Small, ground-based telescopes can help with this effort. This talk will describe NASA’s citizen science campaign to pin down exoplanet transit time predictions so as to help maximize the efficiency of scheduling coming JWST observations. You can become involved in this effort even if you do not have your own telescope!

Meet the Speaker:

Rob is an exoplanet astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on ground- and space-based observations of the atmospheres of exoplanets, planets outside of our Solar System. Rob is a member of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope's Coronograph Instrument (CGI; an instrument that will directly-image exoplanets) Project Science Team and is the lead of developing its Science Calibration Plan. He is the JPL Commissioning Lead of NESSI, a new multi-object spectrograph at Palomar Observatory that will study tens of these alien worlds. He has been involved in benchmarking the performance through simulations of NASA and ESA exoplanet-dedicated missions such as CASE, the NASA contribution to ESA's ARIEL mission, and the Astro2020 missions Origins Space Telescope and HabEx. He is also the Project Lead of Exoplanet Watch, a citizen science project that will aid in the characterization of exoplanets.

Rob was born just outside the Philadelphia city limits but grew up in Hendersonville, TN. He went to Villanova University where he graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Astronomy and Astrophysics, minoring in Physics, Mathematics, and Classics, and getting an Honors Concentration. His love of travel and learning about other cultures brought him to University College London in England where he got his MSc in Space Science. He then moved out west to Tucson, AZ, where he received his PhD in Planetary Sciences from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. He is currently staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When he's not observing exoplanets, he enjoys jazz piano, cooking, trying not to kill all his plants, brewing beer, playing ice hockey, and fantasizing about retiring to work at Disney.