While the planets in our Solar System are astonishingly diverse, all of them move around the Sun in approximately the same orbital plane, in the same direction, and primarily in circular orbits. Over the past 25 years Butler's work has focused on improving the measurement precision of stellar Doppler velocities, from 300 meters per second in the 1980s to 1 meter a second in the 2010s to detect planets around other stars. The ultimate goal is to find planets that resemble the Earth.
Butler designed and built the iodine absorption cell system at Lick Observatory, which resulted in the discovery of 5 of the first 6 known extrasolar planets. This instrument has become the de facto standard for precision Doppler studies, having been adopted by teams at the University of Texas, Harvard, Europe, and Japan. In addition, Butler built the iodine systems at the Keck, Anglo-Australian, and Magellan Telescopes. The original iodine cell (still in use at Lick) has been requested by the Smithsonian Institution upon its retirement.
Along with his collaborators at Lick, Keck, AAT, and Magellan, Butler has discovered hundreds of extrasolar planets, including the first planet to transit its host star, the first sub-Saturn mass planets, the first Neptune-mass planet, and the first terrestrial mass planet. This work has been featured on several front page articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as a TIME magazine cover story.
Butler received a B.A. and M.S. in physics and a B.S. in chemistry from San Francisco State University. He received a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Maryland. He was a research scientist at San Francisco State University, a visiting research fellow at U.C. Berkeley, and a staff astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Observatory before joining the staff at Carnegie in 1999.
Butler received the Bioastronomy Medal from the International Astronomical Union, and the Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. In November 2003 he was named Space Scientist of the Year by Discover Magazine. In 2010 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For more information see http://www.dtm.ciw.edu/people/r-paul-butler