Stars, Ammonia, and Super-Earths: Caprice Phillips hosts Real Scientists

Real Scientists is stargazing this week with Caprice Phillips (@CapricePhillips), a graduate researcher at Ohio State University. She chatted with us about astronomy, exoplanets, and her research so far.

Welcome to Real Scientists – how did you get started in astronomy?
Funny enough, it was car rides to my grandparents’ house that led me to be interested in astronomy. As a kid, a two hour car ride felt like 2 days, so I would just stare out the car window when I was bored. I was fascinated with just looking up at the sky on those drives over to my grandparents’ house. When I found out that you could get paid to study space, that was all I needed to know! From that point on, I told everyone I wanted to be an astronomer, it was my career goal in my 8th grade yearbook too.

What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a project involving looking for Ammonia as a biosignature on Super-Earths with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. When the idea of life comes up, we often think about life here on Earth (a Nitrogen and Oxygen dominated atmosphere), but there are objects known as Super-Earths (exoplanets with masses of 2-10 times the mass of Earth and up to 2 Earth radii); these objects are more massive so they can hold onto more of their atmosphere. For Super-Earth atmospheres dominated by Hydrogen and Nitrogen, there could be life breaking down the bonds between Hydrogen and Nitrogen to produce Ammonia, which we might be able to detect with JWST.

unnamedWhat does your perfect day off look like?
I actually have two versions of my ideal day off. The first one would consist of me solely sleeping all day, but the second more productive version would start off by waking up in a National Park. I spent last Summer working in the Mineral King Area of Sequoia National Park in California, so for me it would be perfect to wake up there. In Mineral King, there is no cell service and the area is pretty isolated. I would wake up early and take a hike to one of the lakes and back, and then I would go to sleep.

When I am not working, I [also] enjoy cooking and trying my hand at new recipes, reading, drawing, and getting my money’s worth out of streaming services.

Caprice Phillips, welcome to Real Scientists!

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