UBC astrophysicist invites Canadians to direct cosmic photo shoot
The 10th anniversary of Canada’s first space telescope could have you doing more than just wishing upon a star – you could be taking 100,000 snapshots of it – for free.
Launched on June 30 2003, the suitcase-sized space telescope is named MOST, which stands for Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (the type of data it collects).
“MOST can also stand for My Own Space Telescope,” says MOST Mission Scientist and University of British Columbia astrophysicist Jaymie Matthews, “because we invite all Canadians to submit ideas for stars to be studied.”
While a snapshot from a crowd funded U.S. space telescope could cost up to $200, any Canadian wannabe astronomer can contribute to real science without digging into their own pockets.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” says Matthews. “But 100,000 pictures from MOST are worth a close-up of a star system a thousand light years away.”
The series of pictures – collected minute by minute for weeks – becomes a “light curve:” a record of the star’s brightness variations. The result translates into something like a 3D movie of a distant star and its planets, and even a virtual X-ray of a star’s hidden interior, through a technique called asteroseismology.
“One beautiful astronomical image gives you a great screensaver,” says Matthews. “One MOST light curve gives you a virtual vacation story that is literally out of this world.”
A few lucky Canadians have already had a hand in influencing MOST’s research, including Aliyah Babul, a Grade 12 student in Vancouver who suggested the space telescope monitor a red giant star to better understand the future fate of the Sun. And Gordon Sarty, an amateur astronomer from Saskatoon, had the idea to investigate a mysterious “micro-quasar” – a hot star in an orbital dance with a partner that might be a black hole.
“MOST = My Own Space Telescope is a great equation for a student’s science fair project, or an elementary or high school class project,” says Matthews. “Or the chance for an armchair astronomer to teach the world about other worlds around other suns.”
Any Canadian can join in the adventure by submitting their ideas for stars to be observed by the MOST space telescope through the site. The MOST Science Team judges the submissions twice a year and can select one or two each year to become part of the scientific mission.
Happy birthday, MOST!