Spectral Energy Distribution for Epsilon Aurigae. (Credit: NASA/JPL CalTech/D. Hoard).
We love it when we can put the words “students,” and “astrophysics discoveries” in the same sentence. Recently, students from San Mateo and Hillsdale High School in partnership with NASA and San Mateo College unveiled a new educational tool for budding astrophysicists. SEDs, or a tool for exploring the Spectral Energy Distributions of stars, was unveiled at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Washington before over a 1,000 astronomers and scientists. As anyone involved with stellar research knows, the bewildering array of designations, databases and resources makes study into spectral classification and the nature of stars difficult at best. The Google-based SEDs tool seeks to alleviate this problem by calculating and comparing the intrinsic properties of a star such as luminosity, spectral type, radius and distance. One highlighted mystery star used in the SEDs evaluation was Epsilon Aurigae, a long term eclipsing variable that is just now coming out of eclipse (see curve above). The comparisons and contrasts made by SEDs can be used by educators to design lab exercises and can even confirm or exclude stars in potential line-of-sight memberships by characterizing the stars in a particular cluster. The tool will be available for download from Google Documents and can be modified to investigate stellar dust disks as well as the dust laden nuclei of starburst galaxies. The entire project is part of the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Project. Kudos to the team and the students for developing such an innovative tool; we look forward to reporting on more student-led science out of San Mateo!