Austin is an aerospace engineering major who has always been fascinated by astronomy. He often stays up late at night to catch meteor showers or lunar eclipses, and when he goes camping he often brings his telescope with him to have a better view of the stars. This past summer 2012, Austin participated in the CAMPARE program working with Dr. Josh Eisner at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory continuing the work of Stephanie Zajac and Clint Hawkins on a investigating the stellar accretion rates of young, pre-main sequence stars. This is his story.
For the better part of the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to work at the University of Arizona's Astronomy department under the guidance of Dr. Josh Eisner. Even though I am not a physics major, I have always been strongly interested in astronomy, so being able to work at Steward Observatory was truly an amazing experience. My work focused on the spectra of stars with circumstellar disks. I was the third CAMPARE student to work on this project with Dr. Eisner, continuing on the work done by Stephanie Zajac and Clint Hawkins. Before the summer began, I met with Clint on several occasions so that he could introduce me to the work I would be doing. I also had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Eisner over the computer so that he could bring me up to speed before I got to Steward. I had two main tasks that I focused on for the summer. The first was to adapt computer programs written by both Clint and Dr. Eisner to be able to run large amounts of data at once, making it easier to look for trends in the data. My second goal was to correct an issue in the wavelength calibration for the spectra. It required a lot of trial and error, but with the help of Dr. Eisner I was able to fix the problem. After finishing those two tasks, I spent the rest of my time producing plots of the stars' spectra that could be used to look for trends over time.
I did not collect any data for my project, but luckily I still had the opportunity to visit and tour some of the telescopes that the Steward Observatory uses. During the first week, Dr. John Bieging organized a trip to Mt. Graham where we had the opportunity to visit three different telescopes. We toured the sub-millimeter radio telescope, the Vatican's telescope, and the Large Binocular Telescope. The LBT, which is the largest optical telescope in the world, was by far the most impressive thing I saw over the summer. Being an engineer, I was as impressed by the structure of the telescope as I was by the advanced optical technology. I also had the opportunity to tag along on an observing run with Dr. Nathan Smith and one of the other CAMPARE students. We went to the MMT, or Multiple Mirror Telescope, which now only has one mirror but has kept the name it was given when it was originally built. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and rained the whole night, so no actual observing took place. Still, I am glad that I had the opportunity to spend the night at a telescope and experience both the ups and downs of being an astronomer. Another opportunity we had out here was to take a tour of Steward Observatory's mirror lab. Dr. Bieging walked us through and told us some of the history of the mirror lab. We got to see several mirrors in different phases of production and the equipment that they use to make these incredibly precise and delicate surfaces.
When we weren't working, the other CAMPARE students and I found plenty of fun things to do in Tucson. Remington Sexton, Nicole Sanchez, Lindsey Kabot, and I became close friends within the first few days of the program. We went just about everywhere, partly because there were only two cars, and discovered many cool places in Tucson. As a side note, anyone who goes to Tucson must try 1702 Pizza, it is possibly the best pizza I have ever had. We did spend a lot of time going to the movies, checking out neat local restaurants, and playing cards at College Place, but we did take a few trips outside of Tucson. We visited the Desert Museum, which is like a combination of a small zoo and a botanic garden, took a trip up to the visitor's center at the Kitt Peak Observatory, and went to see the Pima County Air Museum. All of them were fun and impressive places to go to, but I did have a bit of a personal bias toward the air museum.