Campus / News / October 26, 2016

Senior studies dwarf galaxies

Senior Celina Pedit spent the summer looking at pictures of irregular dwarf galaxies and identifying stars.

Her research under Assistant Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg helps explore how ground-based telescopes compare to space-based telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope.

“They’re pretty much what they sound like,” Pedit said of irregular dwarf galaxies, “they’re tiny; they have a small amount of stars, compared to our own galaxy; they’re forming new stars; they are weird shapes … The galaxy would literally be this tiny little smudge [in photographs].”

Assistant Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg and Senior Celina Pedit discuss Pedit’s senior research in SMC. (Utsah Pandey/TKS)

Assistant Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg and Senior Celina Pedit discuss Pedit’s senior research in SMC. (Utsah Pandey/TKS)

This summer, Pedit looked at six of these galaxies. She had pictures of each in three filters: near infrared, visible and near ultraviolet light. She would sit down with each picture and try to define what a star looked like in the photograph using what is called a point-spread function.

“So I tell IRF, which is a computer program, all of those parameters,” Pedit explained, “[and it would] go through and pick out all of the stars.”

Since it processes the whole image, the program can take a while to run. Once it finished, it gave Pedit a new image.

“The more even the entire image is, the better job you’ve done,” she said.

Rings or holes in the image are some indicators that the process has gone wrong. On average, Pedit said she needed five trials with images to get the process to produce something she could use.

Using the data she produced, Pedit would then match the images across the filters. From that, she produced something called a color magnitude diagram that graphs the difference in two of the filters against the data from the third filter.

“They, [the color magnitude diagrams,] as of now are not usable,” Pedit explained. “Now we have to figure out how to verify that they hold the information we are looking for.”

Haurberg’s goal is to compare the data collected from ground-based telescopes against that from space-based telescopes in order to see if ground-based telescopes are still worth using. If the verification process suggests it is not, other astronomers can then use that research to influence their own.

This is the second year Pedit has done research over the summer in the Physics department. Last year she worked with Physics Professor Chuck Schulz, but decided to work with Haurberg this year instead. As a Physics major, Pedit knows the small department well.

Three other students also stayed on campus over the summer to do research with the Physics department. One worked on nuclear magnetic resonance, another on liquid crystals and the last worked under Schulz on particle analysis using Mossbauer spectroscopy.

Part of Pedit’s interest in astronomy stems from a course she took last year. She took Haurberg’s observational astronomy class, saying, “It was both very challenging and very rewarding.”

Following her research this summer, Pedit says she plans to go to graduate school in astronomy.

Pedit acknowledged that astronomy can have a lot of tedious work with lots of downtime, but also realized this summer she had found something to do for the rest of her life.

“Astronomy is weird physics, because it’s not from Earth. . . it’s literally out of this world. Which I hate saying because it’s a terrible pun, but it’s true.”

Tags:  astronomy dwarf galaxies nathalie haurberg physics senior research

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