Image courtesy of Katrien Uytterhoeven

From: Katrien Uytterhoeven
Observatorio del Teide, Spain, June 5, 2010

Watching stars pulsate from Tenerife

I am Katrien, a Belgian astronomer. I have been working in several European countries and I am currently based in Paris, France. My research is very exciting as I study stars that pulsate! This means that the stars rhythmically expand and contract. Studying these movements is very important as they hold the key to what happens in the stellar interior. My research field is called stellar seismology, or asteroseismology. Just as seismology of the Earth involves studying earthquakes, seismology of stars involves studying stellar pulsations. How do we study the pulsations? The rhythmic movements of the star give rise to light variations and variations in the stellar spectrum, that can be observed with specific instruments, such as a photometer or a spectrograph, attached to a telescope. Currently there are a few space missions devoted to asteroseismic studies, such as Kepler and CoRoT. It is very exciting to work with the space data!

I am currently observing with the IAC80 telescope, an 80cm telescope with a multi-color photometer called CAMELOT, at Observatorio del Teide on Tenerife, Canary Islands. Four of my seven nights on the telescope have already gone by! So far, the observations have been successful with reasonably clear skies. During daytime, however, you clearly can see a brown haze of dust from the Sahara desert, locally called kalima, that is brought from nearby Africa by the winds. The haze makes the impressive volcano El Teide (3700m high), located only a few kilometers from the observatory, almost disappear!

I am observing a selection of pulsating stars, that are also being observed by the Kepler space mission, in different light colours. Kepler measures the stars only in white light, which does not provide information on the basic physical properties such as the temperature of the star and its surface gravity. Therefore, additional observations from the ground are needed. The light variations in different colors that I observe with CAMELOT will allow a careful determination of these basic stellar properties.

In the coming weeks I have other observations for ground-based follow-up observations of Kepler and CoRoT targets planned at the European Southern Observatory La Silla in Chile, and at McDonald Observatory in Texas, USA. As you see, astronomy is a very exciting job with lots of travel! I will keep you informed on all my observations!

Go to the next postcard

Postcards from the Observatory

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

What Is an Earthquake?

The expression "on solid ground" is often used to describe something as stable. But sometimes the solid ground underfoot is not stable. It moves as Earth's tectonic plates move. Sometimes it moves gradually....more

Exploratour - The Surface of the Earth

Arid regions and rainforests are sometimes to be found on opposites sides of mountain ranges. Before clouds can pass to the other side of the mountain, they must dump their heavy load of moisture onto...more

Team Observing for Two Weeks

Hi to all from the IAC80 telescope on the island of Tenerife, hidden away on the Canary Islands. Last month, one of my friends, Katrien, was here and she told you a little about observing stars that pulsate....more

Winter observing in July

Remember me? Last month I was observing targets of the Kepler space mission at Teide Observatory on Tenerife. Now I am in Chile to observe targets of the CoRoT space mission. CoRoT is a satellite devoted...more

Penguin Colonies

This is Ross Island, a volcanic island embedded in the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Adelie penguins are found all around Antarctica, but we will be filming the documentary at the breeding colonies shown...more

View from our home

This is a view of the Adelie penguin breeding colony at Cape Royds in Antarctica. In the foreground you see Shackleton’s hut. Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team of explorers tried and failed to cross the...more

Time to Raise the Chicks

We are at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica, a penguin breeding colony of several thousand Adelie penguins. This female is 8 years old and has been a successful breeder in the past. She was first seen...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA