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Cuesta students make stellar discovery

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Russell M. Genet, director of the Orion Observatory near Santa Margarita Lake, announced that three Cuesta College students Noll Roberts, Neelie Jaggi, and Casey Milne recently discovered two new pulsating variable stars.

Students in Genet's physics research seminar at Cuesta had been using a research telescope at the observatory and an astronomical camera to take thousands of pictures from a list of nine candidate stars suspected of changing their brightness over time.

In a release, Genet explained that stars can vary their brightness for a number of reasons, including eclipses and pulsations. He reported that scientists who've reviewed the recently discovered variable stars believe them to be "very short period pulsating stars."

Genet initiated the physics research seminar at Cuesta College as an experiment to determine if students, within the confines of a single semester, could successfully complete a scientific investigation, which included writing up results in a scientific paper to be sent out for critical review by expert scientists and ultimately sending the paper out to a refereed scientific journal.

Roberts, Jaggi, and Milne sent their paper to the Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers on Dec. 18. Roberts will present the research as a poster which is being considered for the Chamblis Prize at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle on Jan. 9. Noll will work with Genet and local astronomer Thomas Smith, director of the Dark Ridge Observatory, to further analyze the observations.

Genet reported that they expect to publish four more papers, and that Noll will make a presentation to the Society for Astronomical Science at its annual conference in late May at Big Bear Lake.

Genet said that the physics research seminar was a "wild success," and plans on repeating it next fall with a group of about a dozen students tackling several dozen candidate variable stars. For more information, e-mail russmgenet@aol.com.

 

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