Rebecca Oppenheimer

Curator and Professor, Department of Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences

Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School


  • Ph.D. in Astronomy, California Institute of Technology, 1999
  • B.A. in Physics, Columbia College, Columbia University, 1994

Research Interests

Dr. Oppenheimer is a comparative exoplanetary scientist: she studies planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Her optics laboratory in the Rose Center for Earth and Space is the birthplace of a number of new astronomical instruments designed to tackle the problem of directly seeing and taking spectra of nearby solar systems. In March 2004, Dr. Oppenheimer deployed the world's most sensitive coronagraph at the AEOS Telescope in Maui. See for more information. In June 2008, her team deployed an even more precise and sensitive exoplanet imaging system at the Palomar Observatory. This instrument is called Project 1640 and involves researchers at AMNH, Cambridge, Caltech, and NASA/JPL. All of these instrumentation efforts, as well as several others including the starlight suppression system for the International Gemini Observatory Planet Imager project (GPI), were conducted in Oppenheimer's lab in the Museum's Rose Center for Earth and Space. Project 1640 became the first research effort to conduct a reconnaissance of all the known planets in another planetary system in March 2013.   

Dr. Oppenheimer also works on faint white dwarfs, the remnants of normal stars, and brown dwarfs, star-like objects that are too small to be stars but too large to be called planets. She is the co-discoverer of the first brown dwarf, called Gliese 229B, and was the first scientist to study the atmospheric composition, chemistry and physics of a sub-stellar object outside our solar system.


Staff Page

Division of Physical Sciences

Department of Astrophysics

Richard Gilder Graduate School


For all publications please go to: then click on Research Papers (NASA ADS) 


Reconnaissance of the HR 8799 Exosolar System I: Near IR Spectroscopy by Oppenheimer, B. R., C. Baranec, C. Beichman, D. Brenner, R. Burruss, E. Cady, J. R. Crepp, R. Dekany, R. Fergus, D. Hale, L. Hillenbrand, S. Hinkley, David W. Hogg, D. King, E. R. Ligon, T. Lockhart, R. Nilsson, I. R. Parry, L. Pueyo, E. Rice, J. E. Roberts, L. C. Roberts, Jr., M. Shao, A. Sivaramakrishnan, R. Soummer, T. Truong, G. Vasisht, A. Veicht, F. Vecelus, J. K. Wallace, C. Zhai, & N. Zimmerman, The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 768, pp. 24-40 (May 2013).

“Parallactic Motion for Companion Discovery: An M-Dwarf Orbiting Alcor” by Zimmerman, Neil; Oppenheimer, Rebecca; Hinkley, Sasha; Brenner, Douglas; Parry, Ian R.; Sivaramakrishnan, Anand; Hillenbrand, Lynne; Beichman, Charles; Crepp, Justin R.; Vasisht, Gautam; Roberts, Lewis C.; Burruss, Rick; King, David L.; Soummer, Rémi; Dekany, Richard; Shao, Michael; Bouchez, Antonin; Roberts, Jennifer E.; Hunt, Stephanie; The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 709, pp. 733-740 (February 2010).     

“High-Contrast Observations in Optical and Infrared Astronomy” by Oppenheimer, Rebecca; Hinkley, Sasha; Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Vol. 47, pp.253-289 (September 2009).
“The Solar-System-Scale Disk around AB Aurigae” by Oppenheimer, B. R.; Brenner, D., Hinkley, S.; Zimmerman, N.; Sivaramakrishnan, A.; Soummer, R.; Kuhn, J.; Graham, J. R.; Perrin, M.; Lloyd, J. P.; Roberts, L. C. Jr.; Harrington, D. M.; The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 679, pp. 1574-1587 (June 2008).

“Direct Detection of Galactic Halo Dark Matter” by B. R. Oppenheimer, N. C. Hambly, A. P. Digby, S. T. Hodgkin, and D. Saumon, Science, Vol. 292, pp. 698-702 (March 2001).
“Observations of Ultracool White Dwarfs” by B. R. Oppenheimer, D. Saumon, S. T. Hodgkin, R. F. Jameson, N. C. Hambly, G. Chabrier, A. V. Filippenko, A. L. Coil and M. E. Brown, The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 550, pp. 448-456 (March 2001).

“Infrared spectrum of an extremely cool white-dwarf star” by S. T. Hodgkin, B. R. Oppenheimer, N. C. Hambly, R. F. Jameson, S. J. Smartt, I. A. Steele, Nature, Vol. 403, pp. 57-59 (January 2000). 

“Spectral Energy Distribution and Bolometric Luminosity of the Cool Brown Dwarf Gliese 229B” by K. Matthews, T. Nakajima, S. R. Kulkarni and B. R. Oppenheimer,
Astronomical Journal, Vol. 112, pp. 1678-1682 (October 1996).

“Near IR spectrum of the cool brown dwarf GL 229B” by B. R. Oppenheimer, S. R. Kulkarni, K. Matthews, T. Nakajima, Science,
Vol. 270, pp. 1478-1479 (December 1995).

“Discovery of a cool brown dwarf” by T. Nakajima, B. R. Oppenheimer, S. R. Kulkarni, D. A. Golimowski, S. T. Durrance, K. Matthews, Nature, Vol. 378, pp. 463-465 (November 1995).

“Project 1640: The World’s First Extreme-AO Exoplanet Imager” by B. R. Oppenheimer, S. Hinkley, G. Vasisht, R. G. Dekany, Roberts, L. C., Jr, E. L. Rice, C. A. Beichman, D. Brenner, R. Burruss, J. R. Crepp, L. A. Hillenbrand, S. Hinkley, E. R. Ligon, T. G. Lockhart, D. King, S. Metchev, I. R. Parry, L. Pueyo, J. E. Roberts, M. Shao, A. Sivaramakrishnan, R. Soummer, F. E. Vescelus, J. K. Wallace, N. T. Zimmerman,  & C. Zhai, in Proceedings of the SPIE, 8447-72 (July 2012).

Teaching Experience


Faculty Appointments

  • Visiting Scientist, Cambridge University, Institute for Astronomy,
    February 2010
  • Adjunct Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University, September

Courses Taught

  • Frontiers of Science, Columbia University, core undergraduate course,
    Spring 2009.
  • Physical Sciences Lecture Series, Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History, Spring 2009

Graduate Advisees

  • Sasha Hinkley, Columbia University
  • Neil Zimmerman, Columbia University
  • AAron Veicht, Columbia University
  • Eleanor Bacchus, Cambridge University
  • Destry Saul, Columbia University
  • Andrew Brown, Columbia University
  • Laurent Pueyo, Columbia University
  • Alexis Carlotti, University of Nice
  • Stephanie Hunt, Cambridge University

Graduate Committees

  • Gail Schaeffer, Ph.D., Thesis Defense Committee, Stony Brook University, November 5, 2004.
  • Sasha Hinkley, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2005-June 2009.
  • Neil Zimmerman, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2006-2011.
  • Andrew Brown, M.A., Columbia University, 2008-2011.
  • Sarah Tuttle, Ph.D., Columbia University, February 2007-June 2010.
  • Emily Rauscher, Ph.D., Columbia University, November 2007-June 2010.