Margaret Turnbull

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Margaret Turnbull
At the Space Telescope Science Institute in 2016
Alma materUniversity of Arizona
Known forPlanetary habitability
Scientific career

Margaret Carol "Maggie" Turnbull (born 1975) is an American astronomer and astrobiologist.[1][2] She received her PhD in Astronomy from the University of Arizona in 2004. Turnbull is an authority on star systems which may have habitable planets, solar twins[3] and planetary habitability. She is also an expert on the use of the coronagraph in the direct detection of exoplanets.

In 2002, Turnbull developed the HabCat along with Jill Tarter,[4] a catalog of potentially habitable stellar systems. The following year Turnbull went on to further identify 30 particularly suitable stars from the 5,000 in the HabCat list that are within 100 light years of Earth.[5]

In 2006, Turnbull drew up two shortlists of just five stars each.[6] The first formed the basis of SETI radio searches with the Allen Telescope Array (Beta Canum Venaticorum, HD 10307, HD 211415, 18 Scorpii, and 51 Pegasi). The second are her top candidates for the Terrestrial Planet Finder (Epsilon Indi, Epsilon Eridani, 40 Eridani, Alpha Centauri B, and Tau Ceti).

Turnbull's work has continued to be an integral component in the search for life in the universe[7] and she regularly contributes to the discussion on how life is defined and strategies for its detection.[8] Her previous work on target selection with the HabCat list and expertise with coronagraphs have made her an important advocate for direct exoplanet imaging missions, and she served as Science Team Leader for the New Worlds Mission.[9] In 2016, Turnbull became a leader of a Science Investigation Team for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (renamed the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope), which is simulating mission data and selecting targets for the direct imaging exoplanet searches. In 2017, Turnbull worked with Stephen Kane to place constraints on the mass of Proxima Centauri b, the nearest exoplanet to the Solar System.[10]

Asteroid 7863 Turnbull, discovered by Brian A. Skiff at Anderson Mesa Station in 1981, was named in her honor.[1] The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on September 28, 1999 (M.P.C. 36127).[11]


In 2018, Turnbull ran for the office of Governor of Wisconsin as an independent, along with running mate Wil Losch.[12] Turnbull received 18,779 votes (0.7%),[13] and finished in fourth place.[14]


  1. ^ a b "7863 Turnbull (1981 VK)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  2. ^ Moberg, Glen (February 20, 2015). "Feb. 19, 2015: Dr. Margaret Turnbull, "Astrobiologist"". Wisconsin Public Radio. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  3. ^ staffwriter (January 1, 2004). "Gem Sorting for the Next Earth". Astrobiology Magazine. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  4. ^ "HabStars: Speeding Up In the Zone". Astrobiology Magazine. 2003. Archived from the original on October 4, 2003. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  5. ^ "Stars and Habitable Planets". Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  6. ^ Lane, Earl (February 18, 2006). "Astronomer Margaret Turnbull: A Short-List of Possible Life-Supporting Stars". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  7. ^ "Life and Non-Life Are Artificial Categories: Maggie Turnbull".
  8. ^ "At NASA, Another Crack in the Darwin Consensus?". June 12, 2012.
  9. ^ "The Planet Hunter".
  10. ^ Kane, Stephen (2017). "On the Orbital Inclination of Proxima Centauri b". The Astronomical Journal. 153 (2): 52. arXiv:1612.02872. Bibcode:2017AJ....153...52K. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/153/2/52. S2CID 37048204.
  11. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  12. ^[bare URL]
  13. ^ "Maggie Turnbull". Ballotpedia. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  14. ^ "2020 Governor Election Results & Map | Journal Sentinel". Retrieved December 9, 2022.

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