Dr. Debra Fischer is Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy at Yale University. She began hunting for exoplanets in 1997 by measuring doppler shifts in the spectra of stars. She has discovered hundreds of exoplanets with this technique, including the first known multiple planet system in 1999. Fischer’s analysis of stellar spectra demonstrated that gas giants were more likely to form around stars with a higher abundance of heavy elements, and she quantified the now well-known “planet-metallicity” correlation. From 2003 through 2008, she led an international consortium to carry out a search for hot Jupiters orbiting metal-rich stars. That project alone detected more than 30 new extrasolar planets.
In her lab at Yale, Fischer’s team is developing next generation instrument designs to break current measurement precision records and detect Earth analogues that will be targets in the search for life on other worlds. Her team developed a double fiber scrambler for the HIRES spectrograph at Keck Observatory, demonstrating a factor of 50 improvement in the stability of the instrument. She is the principal investigator for CHIRON, a high-resolution, fiber-fed spectrometer commissioned at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in northern Chile. CHIRON has a precision of 50 centimeters per second on bright, inactive stars.
Fischer's team is now working on next-generation spectrograph calibration techniques. They are creating a laser frequency comb that uses a tunable Fabry-Perot interferometer, which will provide spectrograph wavelength stability better than 10 centimeters per second.
Latest Planetary Radio Appearances
The search for worlds like our own is underway, but the challenges are enormous according to astronomers Debra Fischer and Joe Llama.
It’s terribly hard to find exoplanets that look like our homeworld. The search requires development of astoundingly powerful and precise instruments. That’s the job Debra Fischer and her team have taken on.
Yale Professor of Astronomy Debra Fischer is one of our planet’s most successful discoverers of exoplanets. She has set her sights on Alpha Centauri, where she hopes to find a Earth-sized world in the habitable zone: not too hot, not too cold for life.