The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo County Times and is being reprinted with permission.
A San Mateo High School teacher is leading a team of students in a NASA astronomy research project.
The team headed by science teacher Sally Seebode is studying a mysterious binary star system as participants in the NASA Infrared Processing and Analysis Center’s Teacher Archive Research Program.
The team presented its preliminary results last month during the 215th-annual American Astronomical Society Conference in Washington, D.C., and may publish its work in a scientific journal.
College of San Mateo instructor Darryl Stanford and astronomy laboratory technician Dean Drumheller also joined the group.
Seebode, Stanford and Drumheller were three of only 14 middle school, high school and community college educators chosen for the program nationwide. The local trio has partnered with Steve Howell, an astronomer with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.
They and students from San Mateo High and the college are doing a project involving multi-wavelength study and using ground-based and space-based telescopes to understand the enigmatic Epsilon Aurigae.
For more than 175 years, this binary star has stumped astronomers as to its true nature. With the aid of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope observations and weekly spectroscopic measurements taken in College of San Mateo’s observatory, however, the local researchers and their students hope to gain a better understanding ofthe longest-known eclipsing binary with an orbital period of 27.1 years. “This program allows instructors to have a real science experience and incorporate that into their classes,” said Luisa Rebull, a Spitzer Science Center associate research scientist. “Their students can also participate in this work.”
The teachers and students learn how scientists spend their days and what tools they use, program organizers added.
During the spring, the local group and other teams will learn how to use the appropriate scientific software for their work and will analyze data.
During the summer, the teams will attend a workshop at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where the Spitzer center is located.