Yale fellow shines a light on star signals

Rachael Roettenbacher
Rachael Roettenbacher

A Yale astronomy fellow’s star power just received a boost.

Rachael Roettenbacher has been named a 51 Pegasi b Fellow by the Heising-Simons Foundation. The prestigious fellowship, which is named for the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a Sun-like star, provides up to $375,000 in support for independent research over three years.

Roettenbacher, who is currently in her third year as a Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow, studies new techniques for observing signals from distant stars — and whether those signals are preventing us from spotting signals from nearby exoplanets.

Signatures of exoplanets are often dwarfed by the signatures of stars,” she said. “The work I do to separate those signals can help other researchers as they try to find more Earthlike planets.”

Roettenbacher uses an observational method called interferometry, in which she combines light from a spread of telescopes to create a virtual one as big as the distance between the two farthest telescopes. From this she generates maps of starspots and is able to discern how star signals can mimic and overshadow indications of a nearby planet’s presence.

Her research program aims to optimize exoplanet detections for upcoming ground-based observatories and space missions, while informing the wider astronomy field on the structure and evolution of stars.

I’m very excited to see how new advances in instrumentation will provide opportunities to apply my method of observation to more stars,” she said.

Roettenbacher’s Yale faculty mentor for the new fellowship, which begins this summer, is Debra Fischer, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy.

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Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643