Geoff Marcy: Planet Hunter Supreme

Yesterday’s New York Times profile of planet hunter Geoff Marcy brought back great memories of my trip to the Keck Observatory in Hawaii during the summer of 2009.  I spent a few days with Geoff learning about planet hunting for my book, Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths.  The morning we met, Geoff had stayed awake the entire night before using the Keck telescope.  But he was anything but tired.  He bounded across the room, demonstrating all the computers, pointing out stars in the sky and explaining how to detect a planet.

He was thrilled that I was writing a book for children, and continually dreamed up ways for young people to understand the material.  “A planet’s like a frisky dog being walked by its owner, the star . . . the leash is gravity,” he said.  That analogy has helped so many of the children I encounter in schools to understand the gravitational tug of war between a star and its orbiting planet.

“They are my children,” Geoff said about the planets to Dennis Overbye, the New York Times journalist who wrote yesterday’s profile.  And it’s true.  Geoff’s curiosity and love of astronomy nurtured a passion to discover other worlds like Earth.  Thanks to his determination, we now know of over 1,700 extrasolar planets, new worlds outside our solar system that just might harbor life.


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