David Latham – from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics – explained at the Carl Sagan Institute launch the challenges in his search that – in the late 1980s – might have yielded the first extrasolar planet ever detected or a failed star. Only upcoming space probes will be able to tell.
Biography: “Fifty years ago Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin’s course on stellar spectroscopy inspired me to pursue astronomical spectroscopy as a career,” says Latham. “It’s truly amazing how the field has progressed over the years, driven by improved technology for detectors, instrumentation, computation, and even telescopes, especially those in space. Spectroscopy of faint fuzzy objects distracted me for a while, but then I returned to Cecilia’s true love, spectroscopy of stars, at just the right time to play a role in the new field of exoplanets. Because exoplanets orbit stars, stellar astronomers (and especially stellar spectroscopists) are useful again.”