Growing up on a farm near Edgeley, North Dakota, Dr. Nicole Schanche remembered how mesmerizing the night sky looked. Now she’s not only exploring space, she’s also making historical discoveries.
Despite all the journeys into space and all of its exploration, there is still so much unknown. Schanche is now doing postdoctoral research on space and planets at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
“Growing up in a small town definitely sparked (my) interest in astronomy because it’s so dark, which is kind of silly, but (…) my parents farmed, so when we worked on the farm in the middle of the night , My father stopped the combine and we got out and looked at the stars and then drove on,” said Schanche.
Shanche went to Yale to study international relations, but happened to be taking a spaceflight course that forced her to change majors.
“In my freshman year, I received an absolutely amazing introduction to astronomy classes and switched right away,” said Schanche.
A master’s degree and a PhD later, she now leads an incredible team at the University of Bern that just made the much-discussed discovery of a new exoplanet.
An exoplanet is a planet that is outside of our solar system.
“It’s probably easiest to explain in astronomy because I’m looking for planets,” Schanche said. “That’s a pretty complete description of what I do. It’s more complicated, but basically I’m just looking for planets.”
The newly discovered planet, which researchers call a sub-Neptune exoplanet, orbits a dwarf star. Schanche and her team saw data showing an entire transit, with the exoplanet orbiting its star, thanks to an observatory in Mexico.
“The press release came out and everyone was excited and I (…) forgot that it was interesting to outsiders,” said Schanche.
The exoplanet she helped discover doesn’t have a fancy name—just a number. However, despite its generic name, the exoplanet is unique. The planets lack a circular orbit, making them the most eccentric orbit of a planet orbiting a cool star ever discovered.
“I think the main thing is that I wasn’t qualified at all to go into astronomy when I started. When I left school, I just had an interest and I tried, and I was just interested and I kept trying.” said shanche. “It’s not that I was overly skilled to begin with, I just continue to enjoy doing it. So I think that’s what you have to do – follow what you love to do.”