In Her Second Time Working with NASA, Odden Will Act as Link between Students And Research Astronomers

Sifting through millions of satellite images from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) public archives, Caroline Odden and a group of Andover students will join NASA research astronomers in their effort to find particularly bright stars in outer space.

Caroline Odden, Instructor in Physics and Supervisor of the Gelb Observatory, has been selected as a Mentor Educator for her team along with four other educators. This is her second time participating in NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP).

She will bring her personal experience to the table as she acts as a liaison between Dr. Varoujan Gorjian, a NASA astronomer, and the other teachers.

“I will be participating in the project like all of the other teachers. I would not pretend to have all of the answers, but I would have a little bit of experience and it’s often good to have someone that can help to do some translation between the scientist and the teachers,” she said.

Although many teachers who are part of the NITARP do not look to involve students in their projects, Odden plans to open her research to any interested Andover student, regardless of their background in astronomy.

“My intention and a big part of the reason why I do the program is to expose students to these experiences. I think that students are really hungry for real research experience, not just doing labs like we often do in science courses,” she continued.

Odden plans to post an invitation on Blackboard in March inviting students to meet with her on a weekly basis to gather data and generate plots to compare the brightness of stars in far infrared wavelengths, as well as identify and catalog those that are glowing particularly brightly.

“It’s kind of like a fishing expedition, actually. If we can develop a list of these stars, they would be great candidates for follow-up work. We can identify a bunch of young stellar objects, then astronomers who specifically study that kind of object[…]might decide that one is particularly interesting and apply for time with a world-class telescope to really carefully study these it,” she said.

James Falese ’14, who has worked with Odden in her 2012 NITARP project, said, “From my personal experience, I can definitely say that I have learned so much from working with raw data, processing it, interpreting it and trying to figure out what it all means. I think any student interested in science should be engaged in this way, not just with textbooks and lectures.”

As in 2012, Odden will bring a group of Andover students to the team’s congregation in Pasadena, CA, this summer as well as to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) conference in January 2015.

Odden was never formally trained in astronomy, and her career in the subject began as a hobby when she inherited the astronomy course and became Supervisor of the Observatory several years ago.

“I learned many things [about astronomy] on the fly. I love the way chemistry and physics are applied to astronomy. I think there are so many ways in which you can see why it’s important to learn these subjects when you take astronomy,” she said.