Visiting Scientist in Astronomy Improves Observatory

While they may not be able to find life on Mars just yet, Phillips Academy students may be moving one step closer thanks to the addition to the faculty of Dr. Rick Fienberg, whom Andover hired as the new Visiting Scientist in Astronomy. ?According to Trish Russell, Chair of the Department of Natural Science, Fienberg has been teaching two classes, improving the observatory and will be holding open houses and events there during the year. ?In addition, he will be working with students interested in extracurricular astronomy and Abbot Independent projects in astronomy.?According to Fienberg, he worked with OPP to add small telescopes with solar filters to the large telescope. These small telescopes are currently mounted on the large telescope and allow for an image of the sun to appear. Without the small telescopes, observing the sun would be impossible. ?Fienberg said that he had also added pictures of various astronomical events and objects in an attempt to make the observatory friendlier to visitors. He added that although none of the pictures were taken at Andover, he hoped that new pictures taken at Andover would plaster the walls of Gelb. ?Prior to Andover, Dr. Fienberg had devoted much of his life to the study of astronomy. He spent the past 22 years working for the astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope, nine years as president and publisher and eight years as editor in chief. ?When asked why he switched careers, Fienberg said, “I decided it was time to do something different. I had been thinking about this for a while, prompted, no doubt, by a confluence of personal milestones – including my recent 50th birthday and my pending empty-nester status as my youngest son goes of to college.” ?He added that he felt education and public outreach had always been in the forefront of his mind and he still wanted to continue his work with astronomy, but in a different outlet. He said that Andover allowed him to write, teach and speak about astronomy, things he had enjoyed at graduate school. ?Fienberg appreciated the friendly Andover community, which would allow him to conduct some research and build an astronomy course as well. Andover is also close to Fienberg’s home in Boston, though he is originally from Los Angeles.?When asked if he would be leaving Andover after this year, Fienberg said that visiting scientists had the possibility to work anywhere from one to three years, but his contract is currently for one. ?Fienberg joined the Andover community as the resident visiting scientist in astronomy on the Israel Family Foundation Chair, a teaching position in the science division supported by Trustee Tom Israel ’62 .?Caroline Odden, the official director of the observatory, said the Science Department had set out with the intent to find someone capable of thoroughly and adequately using the observatory to conduct research, and that Fienberg was hired because he fit perfectly.?Another aspect of Dr. Fienberg’s job is to help students with research for independent projects. ?He said that he is currently working with Radka Dancikova ’09 on an independent project. ?Dancikova but is currently using a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera to study an asteroid. The camera is able to still take pictures automatically. For example, Dancikova and Dr. Fienberg took eight hours of pictures of the asteroid 8356 Wadhwa with the aid of the CCD camera. ?Dancikova said she has high hopes for her independent project. ?Dancikova said that although the asteroid looks only like a star when taking an exposure, it is possible to generate a light curve, which graphs the intensity of light versus time of the asteroid. ?According to Dancikova, the light curve can provide important information about the asteroid, including its rotation rate and an idea of its shape. She said that she will also be taking images of the asteroid through red, green, and blue color filters to determine the surface composition of the asteroid.?Dancikova also said there has been an influx of activities lately in the observatory. ?Public open houses run on clear Wednesday nights from 8:15 to 9:15. She is also piloting a community service project that brings sixth and seventh-grade students from Lawrence to the observatory to learn more about astronomy.