What is it like to be a planet hunter?

Yesterday I spend the afternoon with a film crew from the CBS Sunday Morning News. I got interviewed by Barry Peterson who earlier this year was shot at in Syria. I’m not quite sure what a serious news journalist was doing talking to me but it was fun nevertheless.

They were asking about what it’s like to be a planet hunter. One of the questions they wanted me to answer was ‘What is it like to find a planet? Describe the emotions’. That’s actually a fairly difficult thing to do. There is not really a single moment when you discover something and it isn’t really an individual thing. Many, many people are involved in anything that comes out of a large project like Kepler. However, there were several points in my two recent papers (one a sub-Mercury-sized planet, the other I’m not meant to talk about yet but will come out on Thursday this week) where I got excited. The first was when flipping through the data you find something unusual or extraordinary. The second is when you find that no one else is on to this yet – its not already published and from what you can tell no one else is working on it. This is the spine-tingling moment.

However, after this initial excitement follows months of hard work and strife.  The time it takes to go from having an interesting candidate to having a finished paper can be many months. The week or two before a paper is submitted can be intense. Everyone wants the paper out right away. Long hours of writing and editing are generally required. After the paper is submitted the overwhelming emotion is relief. Relief that you can relax for a little while.

By the time the Kepler-37b paper came out I’d been working on the system for well over a year. I was no longer excited by the work because it was old news, not only to me but to everyone around me. I was more excited about moving onto other projects than talking to journalists.

Anyway, the interview with CBS will be shown on CBS Sunday Morning News with Charles Osgood on 21st April. I think the show will be on at 9.30am on the east coast but 6.30am pacific. Apparently, it should be posted online too.

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