CSU Fresno -- November 5, 2003

Fresno 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 astronomers today.

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," Ringwald said.

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

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