Students sky watch at Arizona observatory

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Physics professor Vayujeet Gokhale and three Truman State students spent their Midterm Break in Flagstaff, Arizona, researching astronomy and light pollution at the Lowell Observatory.

Gokhale said he has gone on this trip for several years as part of a group of universities called the National Undergraduate Research Observatory consortium. Truman has been a member of this research group for more than five years, and a group from Truman spent several nights at the Lowell Observatory.

Students stand with the 31-inch telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, as part of the National Undergraduate Research Observatory consortium. Students collaborated on key research projects. Submitted photo.

Gokhale said this location has a telescope and camera that is a much higher quality than the telescope at Truman, and that enabled them to see even more of the night sky and collect more accurate data.

The telelscope is located at an elevation of 7,000 feet, which also helps obtain more accurate results, Gokhale said. Gokhale said this observatory is one of the most famous in the world.

“In terms of pure science, what you get out of it is more valuable because it’s publication-quality work … over there it’s a well-oiled machine,” Gokhale said.

While they are there, Gokhale said the students sleep during the day and stay up all night to observe the night sky. He said students do this five nights in a row to gather as much data as they can.

Specifically, he said they are observing eclipsing binary stars, two stars orbiting around each other that appear to have a single point of light, and students plan to do a project with the data and publish research.

Gokhale said the students who went on the trip are planning to compare the data they collected there using the light sensor to the quality of the night sky in Kirksville. Gokhale said he thinks the light pollution there is lower than Kirksville’s even though Flagstaff is a much bigger town. Gokhale said he thinks this is because Flagstaff has a light ordinance — all outdoor lights have to be turned off after business hours, reducing the amount of light pollution.

“It’s just a good experience in both regards — in terms of the science and the students getting to know each other and getting to know me as well,” Gokhale said.

For more information, pick up a copy of this week’s Index or read online on Issuu.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row]