For centuries, we have been looking up to the sky to understand the mysteries that surround us. The sky might hold the answers to some of our deepest questions such as where we came from. But what do we know so far? Black holes, stars, newly discovered planets, extraterrestrial signals, dark matter and many more concepts keep some of our brightest scientists awake at night. From the origins of the universe to our latest theories, in this series, we venture into the fascinating world of the bright night sky.
Join our Garden Fellows as we unravel some of the most interesting questions behind those surprisingly simple to see, and yet complex, shiny dots in the sky.
Prof. Sara Seager
Sara Seager is a pioneering astrophysicist and planetary scientist and a Professor at MIT. Her main research goal is to find and identify another Earth. For several decades she has been at the forefront of research into the vast and unknown world of exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than the sun, but also looks at planets closer to home for signs and conditions for life, including our sister planet, Venus.
In addition to her research and teaching, Sara is a brilliant science communicator with a passion for bringing the excitement of space to a broader audience. She is the best selling author of three books including a beautiful personal memoir about her own experience studying the vastness of the universe made her consider her own life - ’The Smallest Lights in the Universe: a Memoir’. Other books include ‘Exoplanets and the Search For Habitable Worlds’, and ‘Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes. As one of the most senior female academics in the Planetary Science world, Sara is also an advocate and activist for diversity and female leadership in space science.Read more
Dr Emma Chapman
Emma is an award-winning physicist at Nottingham University where she is looking for the first stars that appeared in the universe right after the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago. She observes that time using huge radio telescopes, brushing away the noise of our own Galaxy and decoding that ancient light, so that we can finally understand the history of our Universe. She has been the recipient of multiple commendations and prizes, including the Royal Society Athena Medal.
Unlike many of her colleagues, Emma never wanted to be an astrophysicist. Growing up, she thought she would decode ancient hieroglyphics and find lost tombs buried in the Egyptian sands. But one day she stumbled upon the subject of cosmology and read about the vast size of the Universe, how it began with a Big Bang, and how we had a missing billion-year gap in our knowledge of the first stars, galaxies and black holes. So she decided to devote herself to searching for those very first stars to light up our Universe.
Emma is passionate about sharing the wonders of space and discovery. Aside from regularly appearing on TV and radio, she also released her first popular science book in 2020, ‘First Light’. Outside the office, you will probably find her spending time with her three kids as well as reading, both fiction and non-fiction, including popular science and astronomy.Read more
Dr. Harry Cliff
Dr. Harry Cliff is a leading particle physicist at the University of Cambridge working on the LHCb experiment, a huge particle detector buried 100m underground at CERN near Geneva.
He is part of a team of around 700 physicists from all over the world who are using LHCb to search for evidence of new particles that could answer some of the biggest questions in modern physics. Between 2012 and 2018, he also held a joint post between Cambridge and the Science Museum in London, where he curated two major exhibitions: Collider (2013) and The Sun (2018). Harry has an innate love for science and never misses the opportunity to share his passion for physics with the general public. His first popular science book, How to make an apple pie from scratch, was published in 2021.Read more
Our solar system has anomalies. Astronomers suggested the existence of a hidden giant planet as a plausible explanation. The problem is that we have never been able to see this planet. Is our math wrong or are we really missing something? Read more
Dr Malena Rice
Malena Rice is a 51 Pegasi b Postdoctoral Fellow at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, as well as an incoming Assistant Professor in the Yale Astronomy Department. She received her PhD in Astronomy from Yale in 2022 and was offered a position as an Assistant Professor at Yale at the age of 26.
Malena is excited about the study of the outer solar system because it is such a nearby yet evasive and mysterious frontier. She applies theory, observation, and computational techniques in her investigations of the outer solar system and its vast potential for astronomical discovery, including Planet Nine, an icy world thought to be hiding beyond Neptune. Her contributions have brought the field closer to confirming the existence of unseen distant planets and smaller objects - building blocks that could hold the secrets to planetary system beginnings.
Unlike some of her colleagues, Malena wanted to become a doctor her entire life. But she was the type of person who kept asking “why” and was really drawn towards the very fundamental questions of understanding why various aspects of our Universe look and behave the way that they do. Outside the office, you will likely find her visiting an art gallery or reading about art while sipping her favourite cup of coffee.