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They're reaching for the stars

Hedgesville High teacher, student complete training at National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Hedgesville High teacher, student complete training at National Radio Astronomy Observatory

September 15, 2008

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -Berkeley County, W.Va., Planetarium Director Elizabeth Wasiluk and future astronomy student April Liska, from Hedgesville High School, have completed training at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va.

The training prepared them to join astronomers in a search for new pulsars, according to a prepared release.

Pulsars are superdense neutron stars, the corpses of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae. As the neutron star spins, lighthouse-like beams of radio waves, streaming from the poles of its powerful magnetic field, sweep through space. When one of these beams sweeps across the Earth, radio telescopes can capture the pulse of radio waves.

Pulsars serve as exotic laboratories for studying the physics of extreme conditions. Scientists can learn valuable new information about the physics of subatomic particles, electromagnetics and general relativity by observing pulsars and the changes they undergo over time.

"I had many doubts about taking part in this program and whether I could get Hedgesville High School students interested in pulsars, but April far exceeded my expectations and put my worries aside," Wasiluk said in the release.

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"Now I am looking forward to other students joining our team of pulsars searchers."

Liska said she "really learned a lot through the Pulsar Search Collaboratory. I'm excited to continue my search for pulsars in the future."

The program, called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, is operated by NRAO and West Virginia University, and is funded by the National Science Foundation. The Hedgesville High school team, nicknamed, "Eagle-eye Observers," will receive parcels of data produced by 1,500 hours of observing time on the GBT.

Hedgesville High School students who did not participate in the summer training are still eligible to join the Pulsar Search Collaboratory.

"April Liska will return to her school as a team leader," said WVU astronomer Maura McLaughlin.

"Hopefully, she'll recruit others to create a school-based team. There's plenty of data to go around."

More than 30 terabytes of data produced by the 17-million-pound GBT will be analyzed by PSC students and are expected to contain dozens of new and known pulsars, the release says.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities Inc.

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