Two students from Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, and science teacher Kevin Martz spent a week this summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W. Va.
Alex Addams and Robby Siu, along with Martz, spent the week of July 8-14 at the observatory for training so that in the coming school year they will join an international team of astronomers in searching for new astronomical objects called pulsars a press release from the observatory said.
The students will gain access to data collected by the gigantic Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.
“They are trained to analyze plots that show repeating signals, they learn to recognize something that comes from space,” Sarah Scoles, public education specialist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory said. “We thought high school and middle school students would be capable of finding pulsars and we find they can.”
Scoles said there is so much data that they need a lot of people to process it which is why they started the summer training program.
Pulsars, she said, are a relatively new discovery and astronomers just want to know where they are.
“It’s one of the few untested theories of Einstein's general relativity,” she said.
During the school year, teams of students will analyze data, post their results, and share information through an online collaboration site. All participants will present their results at an annual scientific seminar at West Virginia University in the spring of 2013.
Pulsars, according to the press release, are a kind of spinning neutron star, the corpses of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae. While these stars were once larger than the sun, their pulsar counterparts are only as large as a city but are very dense. A tablespoon of material from a pulsar would weigh 10 million tons. Scientists can learn valuable new information about the physics of subatomic particles, electromagnetism, and general relativity by observing pulsars and the changes they undergo over time.
They are best seen from Earth by their radio waves, Scoles said. As a pulsar spins, lighthouse-like beams of radio waves stream from the poles of its powerful magnetic field, sweeping through space. When one of these beams sweeps across the earth, radio telescopes, like the GBT, can capture its pulse.
“The students in this program are full participants in frontier astronomical research,” Scoles said in the press release. “They are analyzing data which has not yet been viewed by any professional astronomer. They are assisting professional astronomers from around the world by measuring changes in pulsars already known and discovering new pulsars.”