Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — Georgia State University possesses a unique instrument to search the stars: the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy operates the CHARA Array, a research facility used by scientists the world over. But they don’t necessarily have to travel to Mount Wilson, Calif., to use it.
|Nic Scott is helping French scientists better use GSU's CHARA Array.|
Scott is the recipient of a fellowship from the French Embassy to travel to the Paris Observatory this fall, where he will help improve European access to the telescopic array, increasing precision and computer systems.
“The fact that we have a pre-existing relationship will help out, and this will help solidify this instrument, giving the French access remotely,” he said.
The CHARA Array is a collection of six telescopes used for interferometry, a process which allows astronomers to measure stars and create higher resolution images. The six telescopes combine light to form the equivalent of a much larger, single telescope.
CHARA has shed light on many stars and produced several firsts, including a picture of Altair – the first detailed image of a hydrogen-burning star other than our sun. Other firsts include the direct detection of gravity darkening on a single star, Regulus; the first model-independent measurement of the diameter of a planet outside our solar system; and the first direct image of an interacting binary star system, Beta Lyrae.
CHARA has also captured images of Epsilon Aurigae, shedding new light on what causes the mysterious stellar eclipses of the double-star system. More recently, European astronomers used CHARA to create images of Delta Sco, a star that has fascinated astronomers for decades due to its brightness regularly increasing by 2.5 times every 10 years.
Very high precision is required to make CHARA work, and that’s one of the things Scott works on regularly when he visits CHARA. His expertise is in optics, working on instrumentation and alignment of the telescopes.
“I like instrumentation science, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Scott’s research interests ultimately lie in the new era of the discovery of planets outside our solar system, an area of astronomy that is advancing rapidly.
He’s interested in looking at debris disks around stars. By looking at debris discs, astronomers will learn more about how planets are formed.
“We are in a major planet-hunting phase, and you have to be able to rule things out,” Scott said. “Theorists want to know how planets form, so you need to know how dust and other things accumulate. We really need to know the basics of how solar systems form.”
Aug. 22. 2011