Meet...Nora Eisner

3 March 2020

Name: Nora Eisner
Job title: Graduate student

What are you currently working on?
I am the project leader of the citizen science project Planet Hunters TESS, where we look for planets around bright, nearby stars with the help of tens of thousands of volunteers. The project searches for planets using what is known as the transit method, which looks for small decreases in the brightness caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of their host star and blocking out some of the emitted light. I am currently looking through the results from the first year of the project and identifying all of our best planet candidates in order to follow them up using ground-based telescopes, while preparing a paper that summarise our findings.

Describe a typical day
A typical day starts by reading the latest paper in the field in order to stay up to date with what the exoplanet community is up to. I then like the spend the morning finding and vetting planetary candidates. This ranges from scanning through the Planet Hunters TESS project discussion boards, where volunteers flag the most promising candidates, to writing and running a machine learning clustering algorithm that combines the planet classifications of all of the volunteers in order to identify potential planetary signals. Once the candidates have been identified, I carefully examine each case individually in order to verify that the signal is not an astrophysical false positive – of which there are many. In order to split up the day I like to spend the afternoon writing up the findings, or working on improving the vetting pipeline code to make our search more thorough.

If you had an entire day at your disposal, what would be your ideal way to spend it?
When I’m not searching for other planets, I love exploring the wonders of this one. An ideal day for me, therefore, includes an adventure that takes me somewhere new. I particularly love hiking and exploring the wildest mountain ranges around the world.

What is your favourite place in Oxford?
My favourite place in Oxford is the New College tower from where you have incredible views over the entire city, closely followed by the Oxford wine café which serves all of my favourite things to drink.

What discovery would you like to see in your lifetime?
I would love to see the first concrete detecting of signs of life on another planet. It is now commonly thought that all stars host an average of two to three planets, so I find it hard to believe that we are alone in the Universe. Detecting the signatures of any life form would be absolutely incredible.