Dan Batcheldor Weighs in on Newly Discovered Planets

When the news broke last week of seven newly discovered planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, Dan Batcheldor’s phone started ringing.

As head of Florida Tech’s physics and space sciences department, Batcheldor is often asked to share insight on astronomical issues. As a result he’s fast becoming the media’s go-to-guy for space news.

“I have been working more and more with local media on these things. I wouldn’t say that I am their go-to quite yet, but things are moving in that direction,” Batcheldor said. “For example, I will be meeting with a group of central Florida science journalists to talk through science communications strategies. I very much enjoy sharing my thoughts with the media on these things.”

Could the newly discovered planets be Earth-like?

During last Wednesday’s announcement, scientists said the newly discovered planets orbit a dwarf star named Trappist-1. They could include “Earth-like” planets that may be the right temperature to host an ocean.   

“The Trappist-1 discovery of seven Earth sized planets, with three in the habitable zone, is another exciting step forward in understanding the ubiquity of planets that may be able to support life,” Batcheldor said. “These data are generating a lot of excitement in that question we have had for millennia: Are we alone? While we will never be able to prove we are not, it is getting increasing likely the signs of life outside of Earth will soon show themselves.”

In an interview with WMFE Batcheldor shared his thoughts on the discovery.

“We have got even more encouraging data that’s going to help support our search for life in the universe,” Batcheldor said. “It’s another piece in the puzzle that we have gathered towards answering the question of whether or not we are alone in this universe.”

Camera may capture planetary images

Last week Florida Today reported on a Florida Tech research project, headed up by Batcheldor. It involves imaging technology that could one day capture photographs of planets orbiting other stars.

“We’re talking about Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits around sun-like stars where the likelihood of there being life is highest,” Batcheldor said in the interview.

“This adds to the statistics we have showing the commonality of Earth-sized planets around nearby stars and the more we keep looking, the more likely it is that we will find that Earth-like planet around a sun-like star that will enable us to get that next Pale Blue Dot image.”

The research project was part of a payload launched aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket on Wednesday. It arrived safely at the International Space Station last Thursday.

The Orlando Sentinel asked for Batcheldor’s input last year when NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered more than a thousand new planets. He explained how scientists can determine if an exoplanet is Earth-like by a particular signature in the light curve.

“It will tell you that it’s a rocky planet and it’s able to hold its atmosphere,” Batcheldor said. “Earth-size planets hold on to their atmosphere.”


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