September 22, 2014

Macaulay Students Use NASA Facility for Their Research

hawaii

Munazza Alam ’16 (Hunter) and Sara Camnasio ’16 (Hunter) had the opportunity to use NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Mauna Kea, which stands 4,200 meters high in Hilo, Hawaii, has the world’s leading observatory for optical, infrared, and sub millimeter astronomy.

Sara and Munazza work with the Brown Dwarfs in New York City (BDNYC) research group led by Professor Emily Rice (College of Staten Island), Kelle Cruz (Hunter College), and Dr. Jacqueline Faherty (Hubble Fellow, Carnegie Institution Department of Terrestrial Magnetism). The group is based in the Astrophysics Department at the American Museum of Natural History and primarily studies brown dwarfs. The students wanted to further their research in BDNYC, and earn telescope time at the NASA facility. They worked with Dr. Jacqueline Faherty (Hubble Fellow, Carnegie Institution Department of Terrestrial Magnetism) to submit proposals and were approved to use the prestigious facility in December 2014.

What's a brown dwarf? It's an astronomical object that forms like a stars but isn't massive enough to sustain hydrogen fusion in its core. As a result, it cools and fades over billions of years to resemble gas giant planet.

What's a brown dwarf? It's an astronomical object that forms like a star but isn't massive enough to sustain hydrogen fusion in its core. Its masses are between 10-70 times that of the planet Jupiter but still considered lighter than stars. As a result, it cools and fades over billions of years to resemble gas giant planet.

The pair were awarded four nights of telescope time and used the first two to observe remotely. "Remote observing is neat," says Munazza, "because astronomers from virtually any location in the world can log in to the telescope's computers and control the telescope! Sara and I used the remote observing nights to learn how to use the telescope's software."
For the remaining two nights, Sara, Professor Rice, and Munazza traveled to the NASA IRTF to observe from the summit of Mauna Kea. "Observing from the summit was both a rewarding and challenging experience," explains Munazza. "The summit of Mauna Kea stands at approximately 14,000 ft, which means our bodies needed to adjust to an environment with less oxygen - making us more tired as we stayed up all night to observe." Before ascending, the group spent 36 hours at the Hale Pohaku base camp, a mid-altitude facility, to acclimate to the elevation.

Macaulay scholars Munazza Alam '16 (Hunter) and Sara Camnasio '16 (Hunter) with their mascot Lil BD.

Macaulay scholars Munazza Alam '16 (Hunter) and Sara Camnasio '16 (Hunter) with their mascot Lil BD.


When the students weren't hard at work observing, they had the opportunity to take in some of Hawaii's stunning scenery, hiking, watching the sun rise and set, and of course visiting neighboring Keck telescope.

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