Caroline Odden will join National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research astronomers to identify a mysterious cluster of blue celestial objects.
NASA selected Odden along with five other educators to work with Dr. Steve Howell and Dr. David Ciardi, two NASA astronomers, as a part of the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP). The six chosen participants will present their findings to the NASA team next January.
According to a NITARP press release, NITARP expects the participants to involve their communities in their research. The selected high school teachers will be assembling teams of students to join their project.
Odden will be offering a weekly astronomy option this spring for students interested in assisting her with the NASA classification project.
Odden and her students will analyze the 300 blue objects spotted by the Kepler satellite, a capsule that was sent into orbit in 2009.
The purpose of the Kepler satellite was to find planets in other solar systems, according to Odden. NASA will have Odden and the five other educators identify the blue cluster because the Kepler scientists will not be examining the blue objects photographed by their craft, and instead continue searching for other planets.
Because the objects appear blue, Odden and her students will look for celestial artifacts that typically appear blue in satellite images, including active galactic nuclei, which are galaxies with black holes at their centers, planetary nebula nuclei, which are small, dying, stars, white dwarfs and cataclysmic variables.
The team will use public archival data to analyze the light the objects emit, which will help Odden and her students categorize them.
In addition to working in Odden’s astronomy project, two students who have yet to be selected will also accompany Odden to California Institute of Technology this summer for a week of work. When the teachers and scientists present their findings next January, those two students will accompany Odden as well.
There are no prerequisites for participation in the program and students of all classes can enroll. However, Senior participants will not be able to travel with Odden this summer or in January, according to Odden.
To begin the project, Odden traveled to Austin, Tex., to attend an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting and introduce herself to her coworkers.
Though Odden is currently on sabbatical, the main purpose of her sabbatical was not the NASA project. During her sabbatical, she has been studying asteroid tracks from the Andover observatory and will have a paper published on the subject this March.
According to Odden, the NITARP project will not interfere with this personal research project. “I made progress on the asteroid work much more quickly than I expected to, and that enabled me to take on this other opportunity. I will continue to take data on asteroids while I work with the NITARP team,” said Odden.
Odden said that she is excited to join the NITARP because of the opportunity it presents for student involvement.
“I am very interested in finding ways to provide Phillips Academy students with authentic research experiences,” said Odden.
“In my astronomy classes, my students often wonder what sorts of things real astronomers do. This program will give my students and me the opportunity to learn some answers to this question first hand,” continued Odden.
Odden held an information session on Wednesday for students interested in the project.
Zoe Chazen ’14, who attended the information session, said, “I think it’s cool because it gives you the experience of doing real research. Most people don’t know exactly what being a real scientist entails, and this will give students the opportunity to figure it out first hand.”
The students chosen by Odden will begin to work on the project at the end of Winter Term, and will meet weekly throughout the spring term, according to Odden.
Odden will join Salle Seebode of San Mateo High School in San Mateo, CA, Joseph Childers from Boonshaft Museum of Discovery of Dayton, OH, Cindy Melton of Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs, FL, Matthew McCutcheon of the Latin School of Chicago and Meca Lynn, a member of IPAC in Pasaden, CA.