CSU Fresno -- November 5, 2003
State Physics Students Participating in Ringwald's NASA Hubble Space
Telescope Project Nov. 3-9
Dr. Frederick Ringwald, physics professor at California State University,
Fresno, began a prestigious project Monday using NASA’s Hubble
Space Telescope and the university’s Campus Observatory to study
exotic magnetic stars.
He and several Fresno State physics students will work through Sunday
(Nov. 9) on the project to study two unusual star systems called AM
Herculis and the AR Ursae Majoris.
“The focus of the project is to observe the ultraviolet spectrum
caused by the transfer of mass in these two systems,” Ringwald
explained. Last spring, Ringwald was awarded eight orbits of telescope
time — about 12 hours — on NASA’s Hubble, which is
an Earth-orbiting spacecraft and most powerful telescope available to
The Space Telescope Science Institute recently notified Ringwald and
his project partner Dr. Steve Saar, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics, of their scheduled time in early November to
observe the two star systems.
Ringwald’s project is distinguished because NASA receives more
than six times the number of requests for observations with Hubble Space
Telescope than it can afford to allow, he said.
"The use of Hubble is highly oversubscribed and competitive,"
NASA approves project proposals submitted by researchers and scientists
and allots observing time on Hubble Space Telescope. Ringwald submitted
his project proposal to NASA in January 2003 and received formal approval
in April. The eight observations NASA has allowed him with Hubble Space
Telescope will last around 93 minutes each.
"When you get Hubble time it is very important to do everything
you can, to make sure the experiment is successful," said Ringwald,
who has worked on two previous Hubble Space Telescope projects.
Ringwald is also using the Campus Observatory, behind the Downing Planetarium
on Maple and San Ramon Avenues, where Fresno State physics students
have been obtaining targeting information for Hubble, by observing how
the two target stars change in brightness throughout the semester.
For the project this week the physics students will be recording supporting
observations simultaneously at the Campus Observatory during the time
allotted by NASA for viewing images from the Hubble Telescope.
“The observations taken at the Campus Observatory for the AM Her
and AR UMa project are useful because information that will be collected
at the observatory, such as the temperatures of the stars, will not
be present in the Hubble data,” said Ringwald.
He explained that the observations will be used to study magnetism in
both star systems.
“No one understands how stars make magnetic fields, and the two
systems to be observed by Hubble are among the most highly magnetic
stars known,” Ringwald said.
Understanding magnetism in stars would help with predicting flares on
the Sun, like the ones that erupted this last week, which are caused
by magnetism. “Solar flares and their radiation storms often cause
problems with communications satellites, pagers, cell phones and radio
reception,” he said. “Solar flares have also caused electric
power blackouts, and their radiation is a health danger to astronauts.”
NASA is funding the project and these funds will be used toward paying
stipends for students assisting in research work.
David Reynolds, a Fresno State physics student who will be collecting
data at the observatory, is excited about the opportunity to work on
the NASA project.
"Any important research provides the opportunity for a tremendous
learning experience,” Reynolds said. “The AM Her project
is key to extending my experience and helps develop one of the most
important tools of an astronomer: collaboration."
Reynolds has already observed two professional observatories this year
under the guidance of Ringwald, who has also used the Keck I telescope
in Hawaii, the largest in the world. "It gets students involved
in front-line research with the state-of-the-art projects," said
Ringwald, emphasizing the importance of practical experience in the
field for students like Reynolds.
The students will be working on the project throughout the week, and
their participation will be especially important on the night of November
8-9, since a total lunar eclipse will occur on that evening between
5:31 and 7:45 p.m. The Central Valley Astronomers, Fresno’s amateur
astronomy club, will be hosting an observing session at the Downing
Planetarium at this time, and the students’ help with answering
questions from the public will help enormously.
Contact: Tom Uribes (559) 278-5366 or 246-1717