Category Archives: Science Highlights

RCT Supports Summer 2012 Astronomy Camps

For the second summer in a row, the RCT was used by students attending the astronomy camps  directed  by Dr. Don McCarthy .  Four camps held in June and July engaged a total  93 teenagers from the US and five  foreign countries .  The RCT was used for temporal monitoring of two comets, a flare star and Saturn’s moon Titan. The picture below shows the campers at the 12-meter telescope observing the transit of Venus.  The other image is a mosaic of several nights of observing Titan in orbit around Saturn, which was part of a project using Kepler’s Third Law to determine the mass of Saturn. Titan is shown as different colored dots which represent four different epochs of observations

M42 through the RCT’s Hα filter

A 30-second exposure of the HII region, M42 (the Orion Nebula) taken through the RCT’s Hα  filter.  The full-field image is nearly 10 arcminutes square with North up and East to the left. Major features such as the Dark Bay (upper left), the Bar and the Trapezium stars (center) are clearly visible.  The zoomed image presents a more detailed view of the inner region of the nebula. Stars fainter than 16th magnitude are visible near the Trapezium. Emission features such as ionized knots and shock fronts are clearly visible.


Villanova’s Living with a Red Dwarf Program

Because of their slow nuclear fusion rates, dM stars undergo almost negligible changes in temperature or luminosity over time, making traditional age determination methods (such as isochronal fits) essentially impossible.

There is, however, one property of dM stars that does noticeably change over time – the strength of their magnetic fields. As dM stars (along with K- and solar-type G-stars) age, they undergo the “spin-down” effect, where the rotation period lengthens over time. This is a quantity that can be directly measured and then calibrated as a “dating method” or “aging method.” The problem has been the need to calibrate a relationship between stars of known rotation periods and stars of known ages. The database of dM stars with reliably known ages has long been limited but, recently, two separate studies published by Garces et al. and Zhao et al. in 2011 furnished a nice list of dM stars with white dwarf companions. Recent work has allowed for much more reliable white dwarf ages to be determined, and that age can be assigned to the companion dM star through association. We’ve been observing as many of these guys as we can with the RCT. I’m attaching a couple lightcurves we’ve obtained so far and also our Rotation over Time graphs, where the red points show rotation rates derived from RCT photometry. The results of the program so far have been pretty exciting.

The Spindle Galaxy as seen by RCT


NGC5866 in the H_alpha filter

Some of you might have noticed this week that we have cleared some space in the queue to allow a couple of students to take data for their Astronomical Observational Techniques class.

Jason Leszczewicz, a Physics major at WKU, took this image of galaxy NGC 5866 for his project to determine the star formation rates of a sample of galaxies. This image is a raw 300s exposure taken in the H_alpha_continuum (6444A) filter.

NGC 5866 (also called the Spindle Galaxy or Messier 102) is a relatively bright lenticular or spiral galaxy in the constellation Draco. As clearly seen in this image, it’s most prominent feature is it’s edge-on dust disc.

It was so pretty I thought everyone should see it.

Let me know if you have any similarly pretty images taken with the RCT!