Shaye Storm: Studying Extrasolar Planets by Melis A. '08
Shaye Storm spent his summer working at the MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory where he studied extrasolar planets.
Staying up all night while staring up at the stars, eating loads of candy, and playing puzzles when clouds obscure the view — sounds like summer camp, right? Not quite, it was part of sophomore Shaye Storm’s summer UROP at Jim Elliott’s MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory. As most UROPers hung up their lab coats to head home, Shaye and two other undergrads would meet at the lab and if the sky was clear, they would drive up to MIT operated Wallace Observatory in Westford, MA. Once at the observatory, they studied extrasolar planets (a planet outside of our solar system), which I’m told is currently a super hot topic in astronomy!
The goal of the observations is to test if the Wallace Observatory has all the necessary equipment to detect and do studies on extrasolar systems. A lot of extrasolar systems are found in binary star systems, so they looked for eclipsing binaries to indicate the existence of a binary star system. So, when one binary star passes in front of another binary star, you get an eclipse. The eclipse is observed by a big drop in intensity in the light curve readings. From the light curve, you can determine the midpoint and consequently measure the accuracy of the midpoint measurement by comparing it to existing measurements from professional publications.
Basically, once Shaye and his colleagues verify that the observatory has equipment that is good enough to detect extrasolar planets, the next major goal is to find an extrasolar planet that has Earth-like properties. Life probably exists on other planets; we just have to find it!
Shaye says one of the cool things about his UROP were the weekly lab meetings that involved teleconferencing with scientists in Chile, Arizona, and Hawaii (if you want to travel to these cool places, be an astronomer!) He suggests that if you like astronomy, then these is a freshman astronomy seminar (see an old entry about Emily Levesque for more information) that is a great introduction. Shaye emphasizes that there are a lot of summer opportunities for undergrads with very little experience but with a lot of passion.
Shaye is currently in Course 12 (Earth and Planetary Science) and in his free time he hosts a radio program on WMBR 88.1, the MIT campus radio station. His show airs on Friday nights, from 7-8 PM, and if you listen to last week’s show you can even hear me and our friend Boris (about whom I will be writing next week)!