Union Physics majors observe at Arecibo Observatory

Rachel Almodovar, Rebecca Koopmann, Halley Darling, and Lucas Viani at the Arecibo Telescope

Physics and Astronomy majors Halley Darling, ’13, Lucas Viani, ’14, and Rachel Almovodar, ’15, recently observed at the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico with Physics & Astronomy Professor Rebecca Koopmann, ’89. The team carried out a 4-night observing run to record radio emission from hydrogen gas in galaxies located up to 750 million light-years away. The Arecibo telescope operates at radio wavelengths and is the world’s largest reflector, spanning more than 1,000 feet in diameter and with a surface area as big as 26 football fields.

The observations carried out by the Union team are part of the ongoing ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA, where ALFA i
s the name of the detector used in the observations) survey, a 7-year project headed by Riccardo Giovanelli at Cornell University, to census hydrogen-bearing galaxies in the local Universe. Among the targets were some of the smallest galaxies yet detected.

Funding for the trip was provided by Koopmann collaborative NSF “Undergraduate ALFALFA Team” grant with Colgate University and Georgia Southern University. The Union team also trained faculty and student colleagues from Hartwick College and St. Mary’s College of California in observing and data reduction techniques.

The trip was part of the Sophomore Scholar’s Project of Lucas Viani, ’14; he studied gas and star formation properties of a nearby gravitationally-bound group of galaxies.

Rachel Almodovar is from Puerto Rico – it was a childhood dream of hers to observe at Arecibo, an opportunity provided by Union! She wrote up her thoughts on observing at Arecibo on the ALFALFA blog at: http://alfalfasurvey.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/a-childhood-wish-come-true/

All three students will be working with Koopmann this summer on research related to the observing trip.