On Feb 22nd, an international team led by Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège in Belgium and including EAPS postdoc Julien de Wit made the front cover of Nature with news about their discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a nearby star just 39 light years from Earth.
All seven planets appear to be rocky, and any one of them may harbor liquid water, as they are each within an area called the habitable zone, where temperatures are within a range suitable for sustaining liquid water on a planet’s surface. The discovery marks a new record, as the planets make up the largest known number of habitable-zone planets orbiting a single star outside our solar system. Julien de Wit is heading up the team’s study of the planets’ atmospheres, the compositions of which may offer up essential clues as to whether these planets harbor signs of life.
To a standing-room-only crowd packed into 54-100 on Friday, Feb 24th to hear Drs. Gillon and de Wit speak about their discovery, and another 12K people around the world watched the lecture as it was livecast. If you missed it you can watch it here:
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Julien de Wit is a postdoctoral associate working in the Seager Group. As Julien puts it his primary interest and expertise "lie in the field of data science where Math and Science are brought together to make sense of newly accessible pieces of Reality!" Over the past five years, he has developed and applied new analysis techniques to map exoplanet atmospheres, study the radiative and tidal planet-star interactions in eccentric planetary systems, and constrain the atmospheric properties and mass of exoplanets solely from transmission spectroscopy.