In 2019, the Nobel prize was awarded to a group of astronomers who first found planets beyond our own solar system. For many astronomers, the lure of the field is in the possibility that one of thousands discovered will turn out to be inhabitable – or even inhabited. Andrew Pontzen joins exoplanet experts Nora Eisner and Ingo Waldmann to find out what we know, distinguish fact from fiction, and ask whether we can ever expect to find a second Earth.


Born in Switzerland and raised in Cambridge, Nora Eisner is currently an Astrophysics PhD student at the University of Oxford. As part of her research, Nora is the project leader of the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project. TESS engages tens of thousands of citizen scientists from around the world in the exciting task of finding planets that are otherwise missed. Prior to her current position at the University of Oxford, Eisner completed her Bachelor and Master’s degree at the University of Sheffield, with a year at the University of Maryland, USA. During her time in the USA working at the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Eisner’s research focused on comets.

Dr Ingo Waldmann is an Associate Professor at the University College London (UCL). He leads the ExoAI group specializing in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) systems to characterize extrasolar planets. He is the Machine Learning lead of the European Space Agency Ariel space telescope which will be launched in 2029 to study the atmospheres of 1000 nearby exoplanets. Dr Waldmann obtained his PhD in 2012 and has since worked on the data analysis and design of exoplanet missions and space telescopes. He received the Royal Astronomical Society Fowler award in 2019 for his work in machine learning in the field of exoplanets

Professor Andrew Pontzen is Professor of Cosmology at University College London, and a Royal Society University Research Fellow. His research, which has won national and international awards, uses galaxies and other structures observed by telescopes today to shed light on fundamental physics such as the nature of dark matter, dark energy, and the very early Universe. Andrew has appeared on television documentaries for the BBC and Discovery Channel and has presented and contributed to BBC Radio 4 programmes, most regularly for Inside Science and Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, covering a range of topics in theoretical physics and astronomy.



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