Donate Now!
Events and Registration
Signup for FOTO's Update Newsletter
Cosmic Musings Presentation and Booksigning - Exoplanets: the Flood of Discoveries Continues
September 17th, 2018 7:30pm
Register Now

COSMIC MUSINGS presented by United Airlines.


IMAGE ABOVE: This artist’s conception shows the TESS spacecraft, which was launched on April 18, 2018 into a highly elongated path around the Earth that completes each orbit in half the time that the Moon does. TESS will detect exoplanets whose orbits carry them directly across our line of sight to a nearby star by the diminution in starlight that such a stellar “transit” will produce. In two-years’ time, TESS should reveal about 20,000 new planets as it surveys about 85% of the sky. Image credit: NASA


During the 23 years since astronomers announced their discovery of six planets that orbit around six nearby stars, a host of new techniques, new satellites, and improved telescopic observations have found thousands of exoplanets, with tens of thousands more expected to be revealed in the near future.


Dr. Goldsmith's overview of the current exoplanet situation will summarize seven different methods of finding exoplanets, and will concentrate on the amazing variety revealed so far. We now know of “super Jupiters” and “hot Jupiters,” “water worlds” and “super Earths.” We know planets that orbit so close to sunlike stars that their surfaces nearly melt, and planets that orbit so close to dim red stars that they manage to maintain Earthlike temperatures. We know planetary systems with seven or eight members, some of which orbit extremely close to one another. Most significantly, we know that future observations will soon tell us much more about how planetary systems form, which planets may have not only Earthlike temperatures, but also Earthlike atmospheres, and which of those atmospheres may show signs of life on the planets’ surfaces.


The key to future exoplanet discoveries lies with enormous ground-based telescopes, and with two advanced spacecraft, one of which reached orbit in April while the other, ever more delayed, is now scheduled for launch in 2021. TESS (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) has begun operation, searching across almost the entire sky for planets that “transit” in front of nearby stars, capable—so astronomers hope—of finding 20,000 new exoplanets. JWST (the James Webb Space Telescope), with the mightiest mirror and instruments ever sent into space, will examine TESS’s prime discoveries in detail, once it successfully reaches its planned orbit, many times farther from Earth than our moon. Meanwhile, still larger telescopes in Chile, Hawaii, and around the world hunt for exoplanets with techniques entirely different from TESS’s transit search. These include looking for planet-induced wobbles in stars, planet-induced gravitational bending of starlight, and even, for a few of the largest planets, a smudge of infrared radiation received directly from the planet itself.


Thus exoplanet astronomy now stands at the opening of a golden age of discovery and insight, capable of yielding a planetary census that will reveal which planets offer conditions favorable for life, and—at some point in the future—which planets offer evidence for the existence of life itself.


Some of those who have created the much-delayed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are pictured in front of a full-size mock-up of the mighty instrument, currently scheduled for launch on March 30, 202l. The JWST will make high-precision observations of the best target exoplanets found by the TESS spacecraft.




Donald Goldsmith received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley in 1969. After some years in academic research, he decided to devote himself to astronomy popularization, and has written, co-written, or edited two dozen books, of which the most recent is Exoplanets. He has also worked on two Cosmos television series, featuring Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as well as the NOVA program Is Anybody Out There? with Lily Tomlin.


“How do alien, faraway worlds reveal their existence to Earthlings? Let Donald Goldsmith count the ways. As an experienced astronomer and a gifted storyteller, he is the perfect person to chronicle the ongoing hunt for planets of other stars.”


— Dava Sobel


Check-in and the Café at the End of the Universe open at 6:00 p.m. The Observatory will be closed to the general public, and the only area/exhibits inside the building open to ticketed guests is in the immediate vicinity of the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater. The presentation begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater. The book signing begins after the presentation, around 9:00 p.m., adjacent to The Stellar Emporium.



Reservations are required to access event parking and enter Griffith Observatory. In the case of sold-out shows, ticket sales will close. Non-wait list tickets not picked up by 7:40 p.m. will be made available to wait-listed guests. The event wait list may be joined by emailing, including the number of seats requested and a full name for the reservation. Wait list tickets are sold at the door, cash (exact change) only. No refunds are available. All registration closes September 17, 4:00 p.m.

If your membership has lapsed or you would like to become a FOTO member, renew or join easily on-line at For event or membership questions, please send an email to Marc at or call 213.473.0879.



Seeing Our Universe in New Ways - the Infrared Sky Re-imagined by Dr. Kimberly Ennico Smith, NASA Project Scientist

Events and Registration
2019-07-22: COSMIC MUSINGS - 2019-07-22 - Into the Blue
2019-08-10: Public Star Party 2019-08-10
2019-09-07: Public Star Party 2019-09-07
...and more! click here
Your Contributions at Work

School Visit Program for 30,000 students per year

New projector for the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater

Support excellence at Griffith Observatory with your donations to FOTO

...and more! click here
FOTO Newsletter and Blog

Back issues of FOTO's newsletter

Current issue for members

Stay updated with all the latest about FOTO and Griffith Observatory

...and more! click here
Visiting Griffith Observatory

Print self-guided tours

Interested in a show?

How do I look through a telescope?

Exclusive members-only opportunities!

...and more! click here
Looking up! Astronomy at Home

What is up in the sky?

Print your own star chart

Astronomy Experiments at Home

Turn your computer into a telescope

...and more! click here