As part of their studies at UM-Dearborn, students may chose to engage in research or to carry out special projects in astronomy-related areas under the supervision of physics and astronomy faculty. Currently, opportunities exist for studies in observational astronomy and computational astrophysics.
The focus of the efforts by UM-Dearborn faculty and students in this broad area of study has been on stars and stellar systems. The data used in the exploration of these objects is acquired locally using the facilities of the UM-Dearborn observatory or from telescopes in Arizona and/or Chile through collaborations with astronomers at these sites. Among the possible projects that can be undertaken with our 0.4-meter telescope atop the SLRC are the following:
- photometric observations of galactic star clusters.
- photometric studies of variable stars, particularly those with suspected chemical peculiarities.
- spectroscopic investigations of recurrent novae and flare stars.
- imaging studies of near-Earth asteroids to establish their orbits and rotational periods.
In addition to these investigations, UM-Dearborn students have analyzed data obtained from other observatories as part of research investigations undertaken in collaboration with faculty. For example, physics student Sheryl Seagraves carried out an analysis of the abundance of the heavy element terbium in the atmosphere of the extreme chemically-peculiar star HD 101065 (Przybylski's star) using high resolution spectroscopic observations made with the ESO 3.5-meter telescope at La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile. Ms. Seagraves presented a poster describing her work at the 206th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
Applying the power of fast, large storage-capacity computers to model astronomical systems or to calculate fundamental atomic parameters to be used in the analysis of astronomical spectra are two important areas of investigation open to students at UM-Dearborn. In the former, interested students can participate in Professor Swift's efforts to understand the radio emission characteristics of relativistic jets of magnetized plasma released from the centers of active galaxies millions of light years away. Using the most sophisticated of magneto-hydrodynamic codes, Professor Swift produces three-dimensional images of the temperature, density, pressure and luminosity profiles of these jets (see the figure above) and, by suitably varying such parameters as magnetic field strength and particle speed, tries to match the observations of these jets in real galaxies.
In the realm of fundamental atomic physics applied to stars, Professor Bord and several students have, over the past decade, successfully used the so-called "Cowan code", first developed by Robert Cowan at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, to carry out the first ab initio calculations of the energy levels and transition probabilities for heavy and rare-earth elements like cerium, neodymium, praseodymium, and lutetium. They have used this information to establish accurate abundances for these elements in the Sun and in stars whose chemistry is wildly different from that of the Sun, the so-called "chemically peculiar (CP)" stars. This work, done in collaboration with Professor Charles Cowley at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, has led to several publications with students as co-authors.
If you would like further details about the opportunities for research work or special projects in collaboration with one of the UM-Dearborn faculty, you are invited to contact Professor Donald Bord or Professor Carrie Swift for more information.