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Edgeley native helps discover new exoplanet

An exoplanet is a planet that is outside of our solar system.

Dr. Nicole Schanche.jpg
Edgeley North Dakota native, Dr. Nicole Schanche works as a postdoctoral researcher for the University of Bern in Switzerland.
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Growing up on a farm near Edgeley, North Dakota, Dr. Nicole Schanche remembers how fascinating the night sky looked. Now, she is not only studying space, she is making historic discoveries.

Despite all the trips into space and all its exploration, there is still so much unknown. Schanche now studies space and planets as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

"Growing up in a small town definitely started (my) astronomy interests because it's so dark, which is kind of silly, but (...) my parents farmed, so when we would work on the farm in the middle of the night, my Dad would stop the combine and we'd get out and look at the stars, and then keep going," Schanche said.

Schanche went to Yale, and intended to go into international relations, but happened to take a class about space that made her switch majors.

"(M)y freshman year, I took an absolutely amazing intro to astronomy class and switched immediately," Schanche said.


A Master's Degree and PhD later, she now leads an incredible team at the University of Bern that just made a much talked about discovery of a new exoplanet.

An exoplanet is a planet that is outside of our solar system.

"It's actually probably the easiest thing in astronomy to explain, because I look for planets," Schanche said. "That's a pretty full description of what I do. It's more complicated, but basically, I'm just looking for planets."

The newly discovered planet, what researchers call a sub-Neptune exoplanet, is orbiting a dwarf star. Schanche and her team, thanks to an observatory in Mexico, saw data showing an entire transit, the exoplanet orbiting its star.

"(T)he press release came out and everyone was excited and I (...) forgot it was interesting to the outside person," Schanche said.

The exoplanet she helped discover has no fancy name — just a number. However, the exoplanet is unique despite its generic name. The planets lacks a circular orbit, making it the most eccentric orbit of a planet orbiting around a cool star ever discovered.

"I think the main thing is, I wasn't qualified at all to go into astronomy when I started. When I left (high) school, I just had an interest and went for it, and I just kept being interested and kept trying." Schanche said. "It's not that I was overly qualified at the start, it's just that I just continue to enjoy doing it. So I think that is what you have to do — follow what you like to do."

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