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Joel Villasenor: Filipino Scientist in Search of Extraterrestrial Life

Filipino Astrophysicist Joel Villasenor 

The search for extraterrestrial life has fascinated the youth since the creation of science fiction novels, movies and actual manned spaceflight starting in the 1950s. These included many young Filipinos during those times when the Space Race was being undertaken by the US and the USSR.

Inspired by such, a young Filipino during those times had his curiosity further piqued by the Moonshot but focused on the “How To” on further exploring outer space. His name is Joel Villasenor.

Realizing that further studies where required to pursue his dreams, Villasenor decided to study abroad and obtained a Physics degree at the California Technological Institute (CalTech) and went on towards a doctoral degree in Plasma Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Explaining that to go into the astrophysics field, one has to be involved in a university’s research program and from then on move into the realm with a graduate degree as one of the keys.

Also, Villasenor is the only Filipino member and the instrument scientist of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) that was recently launched into space. It is an all-sky space satellite that would be looking for exoplanets outside our solar system.

This collaboration between MIT Kavili, NSA, and several US-Based institutes give funding for TESS and unlike the Kepler Telescope will cover more areas in the search for exoplanets that have more probabilities in supporting extraterrestrial life.

Villasenor further explained that they were looking for “Goldilocks” planets wherein the distance of the planets from its sun will be conducive to the formation of the right amount of water wherein life can be sustained.

TESS is monitoring 200,000 planets outside the solar system an measuring the “dips” in the brightness of the planets will determine if it is at the right distance to be a “Goldilocks” planet. The “dips” in the brightness is caused by a planet passing by its sun.

 “These planets cannot be too close or too far from a star. We know that life [originated] from liquid water. We’re looking for places that can support liquid water,” Villasenor further explained.

It has been a long way from the Philippine Science High School Main Campus in Quezon City to the search for exoplanets for Joel Villasenor.

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