Astronomy Students Receive Space Grant Awards

The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC) has awarded a total of $30,000 in research fellowships to three New Mexico State University College of Arts and Sciences students for the 2016 calendar year.

Award recipients include Ethan Dederick, Sten Hasselquist and Lauren Kahre, all doctoral candidates in the Department of Astronomy.

“Our job here at Space Grant is to support ongoing efforts that meet NASA’s mission needs, or support development of capabilities on campus that can address NASA’s mission needs,” said Pat Hynes, director of NMSGC.

Each student was awarded $10,000 for their research project’s potential to grow NMSU’s capabilities through use of state astronomical observatories and to foster meaningful collaborations with researchers from other institutions, Hynes said.

Dederick’s research, titled “JIVE: Jovian Interiors from Velocimetry Experiment,” is focused on determining the interior structure and composition of Jupiter by studying the planet’s oscillations, or pulsations.

One of the big questions in astrophysics, Dederick explained, is trying to understand the formation of the solar system.

“As Jupiter comprises about three quarters of the mass in the solar system, excluding the sun, a solid understanding of the solar system’s formation is dependent upon understanding how Jupiter formed,” he said.

JIVE supports current and future space missions carried out in the Planetary Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Hasselquist’s project, “Searching for Chemical Substructure in the Milky Way,” uses data collected from Apache Point Observatory, located in Sunspot, N.M, to investigate the formation and evolution of the galaxy. Hasselquist is analyzing the infrared spectra collected from the APO Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) and APOGEE-2, components of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Hasselquist is looking for pockets of stars that are chemically alike in the Milky Way halo, as this may offer insight into where these stars originated.

“We think that the Milky Way was formed, in part, by absorbing smaller galaxies. I hope to find stars in the Milky Way halo that have the chemical signatures of stars being born in dwarf galaxies and then accreted by the Milky Way,” Hasselquist said. “We currently know of one dwarf galaxy merging with the Milky Way – we can use the chemical abundance patterns of this galaxy as a guide in our search for these other dwarf galaxy stars to disentangle accreted stars from stars born in the Milky Way. This will help give us a better idea of how our galaxy formed and evolved.”

Kahre’s investigation, “Extinction Mapping of Nearby Galaxies,” uses Hubble Space Telescope images to generate maps of the dust between stars in galaxies outside the Milky Way.

“Dust blocks light, especially blue light, so having these maps will allow us to correct other kinds of images for the effects of dust,” Kahre said.

The corrected images, she explained, can then be used to study star formation and evolution. Researchers will also be able to compare the dust maps to maps of the neutral hydrogen gas in those galaxies to better understand how and where the dust forms in the first place.

New Mexico Space Grant Consortium is a member of the congressionally funded National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, which is administered by NASA. NMSGC fellowships and scholarships are competitively awarded based on application information, faculty recommendation, GPA, the research project and its alignment to NASA.

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