CASE STUDIES

Stellar researchers to aid STFC astronomers preparing for James Webb Space Telescope

Bohunt Sixth Form

STUDENTS

Students from Bohunt Sixth Form analysed stellar objects throughout lockdown to aid astronomers preparing for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) – the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope to ever be built and described by NASA as the world’s premier science observatory for the next decade. Scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) acknowledged the students’ contribution to Cosmic Mining  –   a  project aimed at identifying unusual stellar objects and potential targets of interest for the Webb.

 

Like other astronomers across the world, STFC are currently building a proposal to win time on the James Webb Space Telescope. STFC scientists will use data from the Cosmic Mining project to inform their proposal. If they are successful, objects identified by Cosmic Mining will be observed by one of the most advanced scientific instruments ever created.

 

The young scientists from Bohunt analysed data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. They learnt how to examine and classify stellar objects by analysing spectra. Students identified 14 planetary nebula –  a shell of luminous gas emitted by a dying star – by identifying the tell-tale turning point in the spectra.

 

The project gave the students a taste of what real research is like while also learning and then using techniques used in professional astronomical research to examine the data.

 

“I’ve been really blown away by the dedication of all the students working on cosmic mining over the last year. They’ve produced so much useful data, and have really quickly picked up an incredibly difficult skill interpreting spectra from telescopes. Their academic poster is a perfect demonstration of how deeply they have understood what they are doing. It wouldn’t look out of place in the poster hall at the National Astronomy Meeting or any other professional astronomers’ conference.,” says Dr Ciaran Fairhurst of the STFC.

The make-up of O-rich evolved stars and why some why some spectra look like planetary nebulae 6:55 MINUTES
The make-up of O-rich evolved stars and why some why some spectra look like planetary nebulae 6:55 MINUTES

IRIS hopes more students take inspiration from the young researchers from Bohunt. From the sixth formers point-of-view, it was a worthwhile experience.

 

“I liked that it was completely new. We were looking at the spectra and knew from the beginning that no one had looked at before and that was really exciting,” said Helena Jarvis, age 17.

 

“The content itself is so different from what we do at school: there aren’t answers. It allowed us to figure out the answer.,” said Mary Skuodas, age 17.

 

As we all know, behind a successful group of students is a dedicated teacher. In this case, Luke Fuller, a science teacher at the school.

 

“I am incredibly proud of what my students have achieved this year whilst taking part in the Cosmic Mining project. They have learned new skills that most students wouldn’t encounter until later on in university and have shown an incredible work ethic; working independently and in small groups to classify their spectra and produce their research artefacts. I look forward to seeing them become mentors, passing on their experiences to next year’s participants.,” said Luke.

 

 


View their research poster

 They’ve produced so much useful data, and have really quickly picked up an incredibly difficult skill interpreting spectra from telescopes. 

Dr Ciaran FairhurstSTFC