When a 25-year-old Maritza Soto discovered HD110014 c, her first planet, three years ago, it happened accidentally. The Chilean student was actually conducting research on a giant star at the time when she discovered the planet, which is three times the mass of Jupiter. Back then, publications around the world covered her important discovery. In 2018, Soto is back in the spotlight – this time for uncovering two new planets.
Currently a post-doctorate student at the Queen Mary University of London, Maritza and the team she led found two new planets. This time, it was on purpose. “For those of us who study planets, it’s not such an exceptional thing,” she told La Tercera. “It’s what you look for. The first discovery was more of an accident. The last two we were looking for. It’s part of a bigger investigation in which several Chileans are participating.”
And while her team allows her to work with other Chileans, she believes she’s the only person from her South American country at her school, where she will complete a three-year post-doctoral. Her next plans include finding planets of lower mass and to study the atmosphere on those worlds.
Maritza explains that her work is mostly about working with numbers (she calls it largely office work) and that she doesn’t get a lot of time behind the telescope. But at age 11, images of planets and stars first drew her to astronomy. And though it may look a little different than what she imagined as a kid, Maritza realized she had a knack for it.
“It was a difficult road, but I found that I had the faculties to do it and that I could do it,” she told BBC Mundo in 2015. “It wasn’t such a farfetched thing. It’s possible to be an astronomer in Chile, so I decided to take my chances and follow this path.”