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Hedgesville High students learn about pulsars

August 17, 2009

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Students in Elizabeth S. Wasiluk's astronomy class at Hedgesville High School had the chance to search for pulsars using the Robert C. Byrd Radio Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va.

A pulsar is the leftover remnant of a star that used up all of its fuel and exploded, leaving behind a core that is condensed and spins very rapidly, giving off radio signals.

Their adventure began in 2007, when the telescope was unable to move on its railroad-like wheels and was being repaired.

Pulsar astronomers Maura McLaughlin and Duncan Lorimer from West Virginia University used the telescope to gather data as the Earth rotated and pointed to a different part of the sky.

They gathered more than 20 terabytes of data and knew they needed help looking through the data.

In comes Sue Heatherly, education coordinator of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, who wrote a grant to start a summer class to train 20 teachers and 40 students to learn to find pulsars using a computer Internet database set up through WVU.

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The student leaders went back to their respective schools and trained others to use the database. Students had to pass two online tests to be certified to search through the database.

At Hedgesville High, students Brian Francella, Cory LeMaster, April Liska, Nathan Martin, Clara Beth Novotny, Shay Nagley and Kayla Schoppert passed the tests and became certified pulsar searchers through the Web.

Students put together a poster paper and three of them presented it in May at a Capstone Summit event at WVU in Morgantown, W.Va., along with other students from around the state and surrounding states that also spent the school year searching for pulsars.

Work continued in June with an observing session with the telescope of the most likely candidates found during the yearlong search.

This coming school year, the certified students can opt to take an online class for West Virginia college credit and a new crop of Wasiluk's astronomy students can take the online tests to certify to search the online database.

For more information about the project, go to www.pulsarsearchcollaboratory.com.

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