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Fishergroup, undergraduate research at PMO featured in the Oregon Quarterly

Thompson, Odelia Hartl, and Nicole Ringsdorf are members of an undergraduate research group named Fishergroup, under astronomy lecturer Scott Fisher. Thompson and Ringsdorf both decided to become physics majors after they took Fisher’s wildly popular 100-level astronomy class. They also signed up for summer volunteer work at the UO Pine Mountain Observatory, which sits on a remote mountaintop about 30 miles southeast of Bend.

Last September, during one of those late-night observing runs, Rose, Thompson, and Hartl took roughly 250 images of an asteroid named Minerva over a three-hour period. Asteroids, rocky objects that orbit the sun in the so-named Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, are not very big, and they are very distant from Earth. (Minerva, for example, is only 60 miles across and is roughly 250 million miles away.)

In the case of Minerva, the team knew that it rotates once every six hours, so they knew that approximately three hours of data would give them the information needed. The trio wrote code that calibrated the data by removing irrelevant light from the images; then they created a light curve by measuring the brightness of the target in each image. The final light-curve data was compiled and sent to colleagues in Kobe, Japan, for further analysis, including the creation of a 3D model of Minerva.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how special PMO is,” she says. “It is a hub of opportunity. I really love it up there—being able to interact with telescopes and also leading the public nights. Science is such a beautiful thing, and I would like to be a bridge between science and the rest of the world.”

You can read the full Oregon Quarterly article here.