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Exploring the skies


by: Andrea Stafford, digital content/marketing coordinator

The planets, stars and galaxies beyond our skies are the subjects of several student research projects in the CSE. Assistant Professor Kat Barger and her undergraduate and graduate researchers examine galaxies and galactic gas movement through the use of observatories around the world and in space.

Dr. Kat Barger (left) and Jacqeline Antwi-Danso (right)

Jacqeline Antwi-Danso ’17, originally from Ghana, worked alongside Barger for two years during her time at TCU as an undergraduate student.

Although Antwi-Danso dabbled in a variety of majors within the College of Science & Engineering, she affirmed her passion for astronomy after attending the 2016 American Astronomical Society Conference to present research. Amidst research about galaxies, black holes, supernova and white dwarfs, her interest in becoming an observational astronomer piqued.

“At that time, I had declared a major in physics and astronomy. Although I knew I was interested in it, I didn’t know how to pursue a career in astronomy,” said Antwi-Danso. “After attending my first AAS conference I became very certain of my interest.”

Antwi-Danso examines how galaxies acquires new gas supplies to form future stars, and ultimately wants to conduct research full-time and work at a research institution or academia after completing her graduate studies.

Horned frog sighting at the observatory

“In my research I looked at gas being stripped away from two separate sides of the galaxy,” Antwi-Danso said. “The satellite galaxies interact with each other. This tug of war causes their gas to be pushed out of the galaxies, making it more readily available to the Milky Way galaxy. The captured gas is then gravitationally pulled toward our galaxy.”

“To reach the Milky Way, it must survive its journey through the Galactic halo, which is a low-density environment of million-degree gas that surrounds our galaxy, Antwi-Danso said. “If our galaxy is able to capture this gas it will be able to use it to make future stars.”

Antwi-Danso has traveled to and used data from other observatories including the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas through the support of grants from the Science & Engineering Research Center.

“Traveling to Chile was my first opportunity to use the remotely operated Wisconsin H-Alpha telescope in person. You actually get to see how it works and learn how to use it,” said Antwi-Danso. “We would usually start observing around sunset, and sometimes observe until four or five in the morning. The subject locations change over time with the Earth’s rotation, so we also had to set the telescope to track its movement throughout the night.”

Conducting research at observatories is not always reliable because weather conditions can impact views of the sky. It can also be difficult to schedule times to observe, as certain times of the year have more reliable weather patterns and attract the majority of astronomers.

“Learning how data is recorded is important,” said Barger. “At the observatories students have the opportunity to see the pitfalls of data collection, the things you have to worry about, and the planning that is involved to observe.”

This fall, Antwi-Danso will attend Texas A&M University to pursue a doctorate degree in astronomy.

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