Astronomy professors receive Hubble time

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Spiral galaxy

Drs. Pat Durrell and John Feldmeier, both astronomy professors at YSU, have received time to use the Hubble Space Telescope for their research. Drs. Durrell and Feldmeier will be working with three other astronomers from Case Western Reserve University, including Dr. Chris Mihos,  who is leading the project.

The astronomers will be focusing on the outer disk of the popular galaxy M101, which is a spiral galaxy located roughly 22.5 million light years away.

“It sounds like a lot, but for galaxies, it’s just down the block,” Durrell said. “So because it’s really near by, we can get a really good look at it. Some galaxies are so far away they look like just two pixels on an image. M101 is close enough that we can do a detailed study of it.”

The project will center around researching the individual stars on the outskirts of the galaxy, where the galaxy has an asymmetrical shape. The goal is to figure out why the galaxy doesn’t hold the classic spiral disk shape.

“The thing is, when we look at [the galaxy], it’s not nice and round. Spiral galaxies are shaped like a plate; they’re flat and often round,” Durrell said. “Well, we’re looking at this one straight down on it, and it’s not round. It’s actually very bowed out on one side.”

They will be able to study the galaxy for a total of 26 orbits of the telescope, which equates to roughly 20 hours.

In order to receive time to use the telescope, a proposal had to be written explaining what they would do with the time requested. Only about one in eight proposals get accepted.

“I know students work hard on writing their term papers and their final exams and stuff; well, we’re still doing that now. This is when we write our final papers. The only problem is that only one in eight passes,” Durrell said.

The project is slated to start September 2015, but the research team is still waiting to see if funding has been granted for the project.

After the data is taken and analyzed, the group plans on publishing a pair of research papers, and creating a new fulldome show for the Ward Beecher Planetarium based on the findings.

Dr. Feldmeier said that this a huge opportunity for YSU, and that he was extremely happy when they were informed they received the Hubble time.

“For YSU, this means three things: 1) Access to one of the most advanced and powerful telescopes in the world, 2) Being able to do world-class research, 3) Creating opportunities for students who want to do real astronomical research,” Feldmeier said in an email. “I was thrilled and grateful. Competition for the Hubble Space Telescope is very keen – less than 10% of the proposals receive time on the telescope, and many excellent proposals do not get time. In astronomy, getting Hubble time is like scoring a touchdown in football.”