Debra Fischer is a professor of astronomy at Yale University and a “planet hunter” who searches for other worlds orbiting nearby stars. She also studies attributes of the host stars to understand the conditions that result in planet formation. The first discovery of a planet outside of our solar system was in 1995, and we now know of more than 350 extrasolar planets; Fischer and her team discovered 186 of them. Although most of the detected planets are gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, the race is on to discover small terrestrial worlds like Earth.
At Radcliffe, Fischer will focus on her search for Earthlike planets around our nearest neighbors, Alpha Centauri A and B. This search is being carried out in the Southern Hemisphere at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), where two hundred nights of telescope time have been allocated to the project in 2009. Detection will require an intense effort with a new data-analysis code and careful accounting of stellar noise sources. Fischer will also investigate whether conditions for life exist in the Alpha Cen system and will develop a curriculum for a graduate-level course on astrobiology.
Fischer earned her PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1998. She has received a Cottrell College Science Award and is principal investigator for exoplanet searches at CTIO, the W. M. Keck Observatory, and the Lick Observatory. Her research is funded by grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.