2010 - PJAS state meeting astronomy projects

Grades 7-8:

Viewing Cosmic Rays at Different Altitudes
John Luis Alvarez (St. Michael the Archangel School)

Project Description:

Grades 9-12:

Orbit Determination of Near-Earth Asteroids
Tongji Youyou Li (Hershey High School)

Project Description:

The goal of this project was to determine whether Asteroid 200506 (2001 AD52), on the Critical List, and near-Earth Asteroid 68216 (2001 CV26), a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA), pose an imminent impact risk to Earth. These asteroids were observed and tracked with online robotic telescopes. After remotely slewing the telescope to the star field surrounding the asteroid, I took a series of six (6) images with two (2)-minute delay between each image via a CCD camera mounted on the telescope. These images were exposed 300 seconds and 60 seconds for Asteroids 200506 and 68216 respectively. Then, I loaded these images onto an online software program to perform data reduction, identify asteroids by "blinking" these images, and measure asteroid positions. I created an Orbit Determination (OD) computation package in Visual- Python language. This package consists of three major programs:
1) The OD program that computes the asteroid's orbital elements using Gaussian's OD Method;
2) The Ephemeris Generator which generates an animated 3-Dimensional model of the orbiting celestial bodies and predicts the next closest approach of these asteroids to the Earth; and
3) The Least Squares Plate Reduction program which calculates the standard deviations of the residuals of Right Ascension and Declination.
Based on my work, it is concluded that these two asteroids do not pose an imminent impact threat to Earth. This project is uploading onto my personal website to provide free access for other amateur observers to track asteroids. I will study the n-body problem to improve the accuracy of the orbit determination program and petition NASA to install telescopes on the near- Earth Asteroids to explore deep space.

A Study in Stellar Spectroscopy
Andrew G. Hitchner (Methacton High School)

Project Description:

My project this year dealt with the relationship between the temperature of a star and the strength of the hydrogen Balmer lines in the star's spectrum. I hypothesized that the greater the temperature of the star, the stronger the hydrogen line. The project involved taking pictures of several stars from the different spectral classes with a CCD camera and the Rainbow Optics Star Spectroscope, mounted on an 8 inch Meade LX200 telescope. The spectrum of each star was then analyzed using the VSpec software to calculate the equivalent width of the hyrdogen lines. The greater the equivalent width, the stronger the hydrogen line. I found the optimum temperature for the hydrogen Balmer lines to be in the A2 spectral type, which is around 10,000 K. This is because A stars have the most favorable temperature to have the greatest number of hydrogen atoms with their electron in the n=2 excited state, which is needed to absorb photons.

Transit Lightcurves for Extra Solar Planets with Moons
Laura McKnight (McDowell High School)

Project Description:
The focus of my project was to determine the feasibility of finding satellites orbiting extrasolar planets, possibly through the use of the Kepler space telescope. To do this, I developed a computer program that simulated what the transit light curves for the extrasolar planet HAT-P-11 b would look like if it had satellites of various sizes orbiting it. Though I hypothesized that it would not be possible to detect satellites, it was found that the variations for a large satellite (the size of Earth) were well within the detection threshold for Kepler. Even a satellite the size of Ganymede might cause a change in the light curve theoretically detectable by Kepler's instruments, though it would likely be impossible to recognize as an independent satellite. An unanticipated discovery was also made. Because the relative positions of the satellite and planet were different every time a transit occurred, the light curves for the planet-satellite system were different each time. This would make the detection of the satellite very difficult for Kepler because Kepler detects transits by adding up the transits, which would in effect average out all differences in the curve caused by the satellite. This new problem presented warrants further investigation.