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Time-Domain Astronomy

Mercury Winter 2009 Table of Contents

Avant opening page

Image courtesy of PARI.

by John Avant

Mike Aubrey, a senior at West Henderson High School in North Carolina, was facing a problem not uncommon to young people involved in the study of science. Mike needed a topic for his senior physics paper, and he wanted to do something more than the traditional classroom or library-bound "answer in the back of the book" report. He wanted a real hands-on project; the opportunity to learn by doing.

Fortunately, Mike was able to find his opportunity at the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive (APDA), a collection of historic spectral photographic plates at the nearby Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI). Working with Dr. Michael Castelaz, PARI's research director, Mike selected 13 spectral plates of Mira (Omicron Ceti) that were recorded from 1914 to 1949. He scanned the images and correlated variations in the hydrogen emission lines with archival light curves from the American Association of Variable Star Observers.

From his observations, Mike was able to postulate that the hydrogen-line intensities change as Mira contracts and expands. In the process, Mike experienced an original research project and developed a passion for more.

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