We consist of Taylor (left), Madison (center), and Amanda (right) and we are working with Dr. Milingo (not pictured) of the Physics Department, doing Astrophysical research.
Cygnus and Lyra (the Harp) are both in the photo above. Cygnus is the cross with the Veil Nebula behind it. The tail of Cygnus is the second brightest star, called Deneb, in the image (at the top, just to the left of center).
NGC 6811 and NGC 6866 are both open clusters, with hundreds to thousands of stars each. All of the stars in each cluster were formed at ~ the same time. We are studying the brightness of spotted stars in NGC 6811, the same could be done for NGC 6866 but we have chosen to focus on NGC 6811 since we have more data over a longer period of time for that cluster. By studying how the brightness of stars changes over time (due to changing starspots) we are hoping to understand the magnetic activity of the stars.
Stars, including our sun, are constantly rotating, but since stars are made of a gas and not a solid they rotate differentially. This means that the equator rotates faster than the the points above and below it. That means that the magnetic field of stars rotates at a different speed at every point on the star. As a result the magnetic field gets “tangled up” and where the “tangles” get very large they disrupt the convection occurring in the star. That means that the spot where the “tangle” is is cooler than the rest of star. That cooler part of the star appears darker than the rest of the star: we call this dark spot a star spot, or on our sun a sun spot. The image below is from NASA’s SOHO mission and shows the sun on July 1.
Star spots reduce observable brightness of the star, so when we observe the brightness of the star changing of time we are also observing their star spots even though we can’t see the star spots.
Since our cluster stars are not visible with the naked eye or even with a small telescope we have to use a larger telescope to observe them. Since Gettysburg College is part of the National Undergraduate Research Observatory consortium we got to travel to Flagstaff, Arizona to use the Lowell Observatory 31 inch telescope (aka the NURO telescope), in addition to using the Gettysburg College Observatory’s 16 inch telescope. Just for reference an average home telescope is likely between 4 inches and 10 inches.
Here are some pictures from our week long trip to Flagstaff!
Now that we are back from Arizona with new images of NGC 6811 and NGC 6866 we will continue to analyze our new data as we have been with data collected in previous years.
Thanks for reading.