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    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!

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