Stellar student researches stellar noise

SJSU physics student Stephanie Striegel is involved in research that could help scientists discover new exoplanets.

SJSU physics student Stephanie Striegel is involved in research that could help scientists discover new exoplanets.

Stephanie Striegel is set to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s in physics but she already has her sights set high — beyond this galaxy to be exact. Last summer, Striegel interned at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena with Dr. Johanna Teske, where they conducted research on mitigating stellar noise using high cadence radial velocity observations for the purpose of detecting small exoplanets. Exoplanets are planets that orbit a sun other than our sun, according to NASA. Scientists are particularly interested in identifying these bodies beyond our galaxy in their search to find a place that might be habitable.

Striegel’s summer internship was offered through the CAMPARE program, which recruits students from California State University and California community colleges to engage in research, with a goal of increasing underrepresented students in the sciences. She was awarded a $3,000 grant from Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research program to fund an observing run at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to collect more data on her stellar noise project with Teske during the school year. According to Sigma Xi, 12 percent of the 810 applicants who applied were approved for funding, and of those approved, only 17 percent were undergraduate students.

While she completes the final courses of her undergraduate career, Striegel is also engaged in an internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC). She is working with Dr. Tom Greene on reducing laboratory data and performing detector characterization for infrared instruments to enable future studies of habitable exoplanets.

“The classes at SJSU have prepared me for my internships both at Carnegie Observatories and NASA ARC,” she said. “Our physics department has a focus on computational physics, which has been especially useful since a lot of astronomy research requires programming skills.”

Before beginning her internships, Striegel worked with Associate Professor Aaron Romanowsky’s student research team. His research group was focused on ultra-compact dwarf  (UCD) galaxies, which are brighter and more compact than typical dwarf galaxies. Her task included mining the Sloan Digital Sky Survey catalogue for possible candidates by analyzing the characteristics of confirmed UCDs and using SQL queries to do comparisons around galaxies in the local universe. Along with other scientists, Romanowsky’s team hopes to discover how UCDs were formed, specifically if they were part of larger galaxies.

“I’m very grateful for the Physics and Astronomy department at SJSU,” she said. “My peers and the faculty here have been nothing but supportive, and every internship or opportunity I’ve had, I owe to them.”

Cube Satellite Launches to International Space Station

By Sarah Kyo, Web Communications Specialist

TechEdSat, a NASA-sponsored cube satellite that SJSU aerospace engineering students have worked on, launched from Japan to the International Space Station.

NASA TV began its live-stream coverage on Friday, July 20, 6:15 p.m. PDT. Then 7:06 p.m. was the official launch of the Japanese transfer vehicle, which contains TechEdSat and four other cube satellites from international universities and organizations.

“Cubesats have been around, but this is the first ever deployed from the space station, thus it has to meet all the ISS requirements,” said Professor Periklis Papadopoulos, who also works at NASA Ames Research Center and served as a technical advisor on the project. “This has not been done before. Some of those requirements we had to help them define since there was no precedence.”

Normally, projects that are sent to the International Space Station take four and a half years to complete, said graduate student and system engineer Ali Guarneros Luna, but TechEdSat was completed in about nine months. The student team was responsible for designing and integrating the cube satellite’s system, as well as performing various tests and making sure it passed the standards of both the International Space Station and NASA.

In a NASA news release, Andres Martinez, program manager for Small Spacecraft Payloads and Technologies at Ames, said TechEdSat “will allow a group of very talented aerospace engineering students from San Jose State University to experience a spaceflight project from formulation through decommission of a small spacecraft.”

If this mission is successful, then it may lead to future cube satellites with a similar communication system.

Kevin Jordan and colleagues in flight simulator

SJSU Receives $73.3 Million Award to Participate in NASA Research

Kevin Jordan and colleagues in flight simulator

Kevin Jordan (front) with Tom Prevot (back left) and Vern Battiste (SJSU Research Foundation photo).

Cooperative Agreement Seeks to Enhance Safety and Efficiency of Air and Space Travel

Contact: Pat Lopes Harris, SJSU Media Relations, 408-656-6999

SAN JOSE, Calif., — The NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., has selected San Jose State University Research Foundation for a five-year, $73.3 million cooperative agreement to participate in the development of systems for improving the safety and efficiency of air and space travel. NASA scientists, along with SJSU faculty members and graduate students, will collaborate on this effort, funded by the largest federal award in SJSU history. The principal investigator will be Professor of Psychology and of Human Factors and Ergonomics, Kevin Jordan.

“San Jose State University is both proud and grateful to be selected to partner in Human System Integration Research at NASA Ames,” Jordan said.  “We are proud of the many accomplishments during our 26-year collaboration.  We are grateful for the opportunity to build on that collaboration to meet the design challenges of initiatives such as the Next Generation Air Transportation System and the Space Launch System. We are well positioned to face those challenges and we are committed to partnering with Human Systems Integration researchers in advancing NASA missions.”

This cooperative agreement will build upon Jordan’s 26-year association working with NASA to conduct research focusing on human factors in aeronautics and space exploration. A human factor is a physical or cognitive property that is specific to humans and influences functioning of technological systems.  Human Systems Integration Research studies how relationships between humans and machines can be optimized.

Under this cooperative agreement, San Jose State students and employees will work side-by-side with NASA scientists on a range of projects.  Examples include the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which seeks to modernize the nation’s air traffic system by increasing the capacity and safety of U.S. airspace and the Space Launch System, an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle designed to take a crew vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth’s orbit and beyond.

The proposed projects will investigate the integration of unique human capabilities with future flight-deck (cockpit), air-traffic control, and mission planning and scheduling technologies. An important aspect of this award is that it will further SJSU and NASA’s efforts to provide graduate students with academic and professional training.

Dr. Kevin Jordan

In the past year, Jordan has overseen three cooperative agreements with NASA representing more than $10 million in funding and employing 75 researchers, including graduate students working toward degrees in psychology and human factors in ergonomics. Jordan has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in visual perception at San Jose State since 1984. During his career, Jordan has authored proposals resulting in over $125 million in funding to support collaborative research in aerospace human systems integration.

The San Jose State University Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation established to enable and promote externally-funded programs that further SJSU’s comprehensive educational mission, impact, and public benefit. Each year hundreds of local, state, and federal agencies, businesses, and other organizations partner with the research foundation to engage SJSU faculty and other university specialists to perform basic and applied research, public service and community projects, consulting, and other specialized educational activities impacting the region, the nation and the world.

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 28,000 students and 3,190 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

SJSU in the News: Physics Professor Describes Discovery of Two Earth-Size Exoplanets

SJSU in the News: Physics Professor Announces Discovery of Two Earth-Size Exoplanets

SJSU in the News: Physics Professor Describes Discovery of Two Earth-Size Exoplanets

“In the cosmic game of hide and seek, finding planets with just the right size and just the right temperature seems only a matter of time,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead and professor of astronomy and physics at San Jose State University (NASA image).

NASA: Earth-size planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, discovered

Originally published by The State Column Dec. 20. 2011.

NASA’s Kepler mission trumpeted the discovery of several Earth-size planets circling a sun-like star outside our solar system Tuesday. While Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f (the newly discovered, Earth-size planets) are too close to the sun-like star to be in the “habitable zone,” where the formation of liquid water is possible on a planet’s surface, they are the smallest exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) ever validated around a sun-like star.

For NASA, the monumental discovery is the next milestone in the ongoing search for Earth-like planets. According to a NASA press release, the two Earth-like planets are believe to be rocky. Kepler-20e is a bit smaller than Venus or 0.87 times the radius of Earth. However, Kepler-2of is slightly larger than Earth or 1.03 times the radius of Earth. The Earth-size plants are part of a five-planet system named Kepler-20. Kepler-2o is roughly 1,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Lyra.

NASA reports that Kepler-20e circles a sun-like star every 6.1 days, while Kepler 20f orbits the same star every 19.6 days. Both of the Earth-size planets are similar to Earth in size only. The short orbits of the Earth-size planets corresponds to extremely hot and uninhabitable conditions on the planet. For example, Kepler-2of (8000 degree Fahrenheit) is similar to the planet Mercury as far as temperature is concerned. However, Kepler-2oe is even hotter (1,400 degrees Fahrenheit). Kepler-20e would melt glass.

“The primary goal of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone,” Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, lead author of a new study published in the journal Nature, said in a NASA press release.

“This discovery demonstrates for the first time that Earth-size planets exist around other stars, and that we are able to detect them,” Mr. Fressin added.

The Kepler-20 system has other planets that are not Earth-like in size. Three of the other planets are bigger than Earth, but tinier than Neptune. NASA reports that Kepler-2ob, Kepler-20c and Kepler-2od, circle a sun-like star every 3.7 days, 10.9 days and 77.6 days. Additionally, all five planets in the Kepler-20 system have orbits that are similar to Mercury’s orbit. The planets of the Kepler-20 system orbit a star that is a bit smaller and cooler than the sun.

NASA also reports that the Kepler-20 system has a strange arrangement. In our solar system, rocky planets circle close to the sun, while large, gaseous planets circle farther out. However, in the Kepler-20 system, the planets are positioned in alternating size.

“The Kepler data are showing us some planetary systems have arrangements of planets very different from that seen in our solar system,” Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist and Kepler science team member at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said in a NASA press release.

“The analysis of Kepler data continue to reveal new insights about the diversity of planets and planetary systems within our galaxy,” Mr. Lissauer added.

While scientists are not sure why the Kepler-20 system is arranged the way it is, they do not believe that the planets originated from the locations they are in now. According to NASA, scientists believe that the planets were constructed a greater distance from the sun-like star than they are now and eventually moved closer.

The Kepler space telescope looks for planets and possible planets by looking at “dips” in the brightness of more than 150,00o stars to reveal planets that are “crossing in front, or transiting, their stars.” After three transits, the Kepler science team knows that a planet has been discovered.

The Kepler science team deploys ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to examine discoveries on possible planets that are located by the spacecraft. However, the star field that Kepler examines in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in the spring, summer and early fall. The data from the ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope help scientists confirm the discovery of planets.

Astronomer utilized a computer program called Blender to confirm the discovery of the Earth-size planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-2of. Blender used simulations to determine whether other “astrophysical phenomena” were disguised as planets.

Back on December 5th, the Kepler team announced the discovery of Kepler-22b. Kepler-22b was found in the habitable zone of its parent star.

“In the cosmic game of hide and seek, finding planets with just the right size and just the right temperature seems only a matter of time,” Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead and professor of astronomy and physics at San Jose State University, said in a NASA press release.

“We are on the edge of our seats knowing that Kepler’s most anticipated discoveries are still to come,” Ms. Batalha said.

image of blue and green planet in space

Physics Professor Announces Discovery of Potentially Habitable Planet

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

As Kepler deputy science team lead, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Natalie Batalha joined NASA to announce today the mission has discovered its first planet in the habitable zone of another star. The habitable zone is the region around a star where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count.

“The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us that we’re honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect: those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially habitable,” Batalha said. “The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods.”

The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

Read more.