Thursday, June 26, 2008

Special Guest Blogger

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm helping to run a science teacher continuing education workshop at McDonald Observatory this week. I've invited our participants to be guest authors. Today's guest is Daniel Maloney, a teacher in Troy, NY.

Day 1 Summary – Our first day at the McDonald Observatory was very exciting. Our day began with staff and participant introductions. We immediately went to work with Dr. Williams discussing how we determine the age of our galaxy. He went on to discuss characteristics of the Milky Way such as its disk size, the halo, bulge, and bar. He also talked about how the ages of globular clusters can be obtained from White Dwarfs. White Dwarfs are dense stars with a radius the equivalent to that of the Earth but with a mass the size of the Sun. White Dwarfs are at the end stage of their stellar evolution, and thus no nuclear fusion is taking place in its core. However, White Dwarfs still emit visible light and therefore are clues that point to the origins of the universe, and that is our mission!

We then were introduced to Dr. Jim Liebert of the University of Arizona via teleconference, who spoke about stellar evolution, and introduced the group to Hertzsprung Russell (HR) diagrams. This provided us with further background on what we will be researching over the next few days.

As a group we will be choosing patches of sky, and using the telescopes of the McDonald Observatory to locate and analyze White Dwarfs that exist in the Milky Way. We were unable to spend time observing last night due to thunder storms and cloud cover, but the weather looks great for today and we’re optimistic that we will be spending significant time observing and searching for White Dwarfs. Everybody is friendly, the food and accommodations are first rate, and I learned an awful lot in just one day.

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