Miriam Stevens and Dr. Clark Christensen, Physics and Astronomy
For my project, I planned on using the telescope at the Musk Observatory to study the variable star IP Uma. The MUSK Observatory is located about five miles away from the small town Hanksville, UT at the Mars Desert Research Station(MDRS). I have had several opportunities to go to the MDRS with the BYU chapter Mars Society. The Mars Society is a worldwide organization that tries to further the exploration of Mars. The Mars Society owns the MDRS and sends groups of scientists there from all over the world to simulate living on Mars and to conduct Mars related research. Part of that research includes astronomy. There is a 14 inch telescope at the MDRS. The purpose of having a telescope at the research station is so the scientists working there will have practice remotely controlling the telescope. The Mars Society at this point has not been able to set up the telescope so it can be remotely controlled and has asked students at BYU to help solve this problem.
The first step in the project is determining weather or not the telescope was research quality which is the main focus of my project. When I first began my project, I planned to use the telescope at the MUSK Observatory and compare my results to the BYU 12 inch telescope. The two telescopes are both made by the same company and therefore operate similarly which made the BYU telescope a good telescope to train on. I was very optimistic that the quality of research from the MUSK Observatory would be very good. Since the observatory was located in the desert, the night sky was very dark and there was very minimal light pollution. Also in the desert, there is very low humidity which also increases the quality of data because a low humidity means there is a smaller air mass that the light of the star has to travel through to reach the telescope. After making several trips to the MDRS, I realized that maintaining a telescope in the middle of the desert is a very hard task. The major problem that we encountered was the very strong wind in the desert which has damaged the observatory so many times, I was never actually able to use the telescope to do any research. Instead, all of my trips to the MDRS were spent repairing the dome of the observatory and coming up with ways to keep the observatory in good condition.
Since the telescope was inoperable, I did most of my research from the BYU telescope. I studied the variable star IP Uma and am working to find the period of the star. A variable star is a star that changes its size in a pattern of expanding and contracting. As the star changes size, the amount of light changes too. To measure the amount of light that the star gives off, I took hundreds of pictures of the star and used computer program to analyze the data. I then plotted the data and obtained a light curve that looks like a sinusoidal wave. The time that it takes for the star to contract and expand again is what we call the period of the star. I used another program to find the approximate period of the star. Right now I have found the period to be approximately .0902 days. In order to obtain a more precise period, the star needs to be studied over a long period of time. I plan to continue studying this star so I can get a more accurate measurement of its period.
The most rewarding part of this research project was being able to present my results at a major physics conference. I gave a talk at the Four Corners Conference for the American Physical Society. After I do more work next year on the telescope at the MUSK Observatory, I am looking forward to presenting my results at the Mars Society Conference in August 2005. I am very optimistic that the telescope at the MUSK observatory will give very good results and that the telescope will be able to be used for several other research projects that will benefit both BYU and the Mars Society