September 23, 2005

Professor Discusses Outer-Space Planets

Print More

Dr. Debra Fischer, professor of astronomy at San Francisco State University spoke of the abundant amount of planets that have recently been discovered in a lecture held in the Space Sciences Building yesterday afternoon.

For the last ten years, Fischer has been searching for planets. Since 1995, she and other teams of astronomers have found approximately 150 planets surrounding the stars. According to Fischer, the discovery of these planets contradicts former scientific theories.

“Ten years ago, one of the theories was that there are no planets around the stars; so this has been a dramatic change,” said Fischer.

Fischer had three main points that she emphasized in her lecture. Her first goal was to explain her current project, which is to research the new techniques that are capable of discovering smaller planets. At the moment, technology is insufficient enough to detect these planets, but Fisher hopes that in the future, they will be found through new equipment.

“Most people are familiar with one planet, Earth,” Fischer said. “Planets like Earth we wouldn’t be able to detect because they are so tiny. Planets we find are like Jupiter, which is 317 times the mass of Earth.”

Fischer hopes that she and her team will find a method that can detect planets similar to Earth, ones that orbit stars at distances where there can be liquid waters. If this goal is completed, then there is a possibility of finding other life forms.

“Biologists tell us that [smaller planets] will be good places for life forms,” Fischer said. “There’s 400 billion stars in the galaxy. That gives a tremendous opportunity for life to arise somewhere.

The second point that Fischer highlighted is the different chemical composition of stars that have planets orbiting them compared to the average planets. These stars with planets contain heavier elements such as iron, silicon and oxygen.

Lastly, Fischer emphasized the new survey that she and her team have launched in order to focus on finding planets that transit stars. The discovery of these planets would allow scientists to examine the planet’s atmosphere.

Although astronomers have known about these planets for ten years, she believes that the public is generally unaware of their existence.

“It’s amazing, [the public] doesn’t know. A few scientists have been following [the research], but a lot of people are surprised still to find out we have discovered these planets,” she said.

Astronomy major Statia Luszcz ’06, who is researching extra-solar planets, came to the lecture in hopes of learning about the new opportunities in the field. Luszcz was intrigued by the details of planets that astronomers can now learn.

“What I think is cool about it is that we can do more than just see what planets are,” Luszcz said. “We can see what their core and atmosphere is like.”

According to Fischer, many professors at Cornell are not only doing research that compliments hers, but also research that is significant to the field.

“The people here are doing amazing work,” Fischer said.

Archived article by Blair Robin
Sun Contributor