UNA Student and Professor Head to Andes Mountains to Investigate Star Clusters

Jul. 1, 2011


FLORENCE, Ala. – Astronomy and physics professor Dr. Mel Blake and math and physics student Daniel Johnson are headed to South America the third week of July for a 10-day investigation of two star clusters.

“We are going to be looking at different clusters and comparing the types of stars they contain versus how many variable [brightness changes over time] stars,” Johnson said.

Johnson worked as a research assistant for Blake last summer researching pulsating radio sources called RRAT’s (Rotating Radio Transients). While working with Blake, Johnson wrote a grant proposal and received secure funding for $2,800 for the trip from the Sigma Xi Professional Research Society.

“The proposal was to cover my expenses in going to Cerro Tololo, Chile, to use the one-meter telescope there,” Johnson said.

He said it is an honor to receive the grant because he competed with students all across the United States. He said less than 20 percent of applicants are awarded the grant, and being an undergraduate student makes it even more rare. Johnson is the first undergraduate from UNA to receive a grant from Sigma Xi.

Blake also wrote a proposal and received a grant for his trip expenses. Johnson said: “Now it was all about getting the time on the telescope. Dr. Blake submitted our proposal, and CTIO (Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory) awarded us time on the mountain with the scope.” Johnson will be operating the telescope atop the Andes Mountains.

“It will be a dream come true,” Johnson said. “I still have a hard time accepting that I am actually going to get to do this. I’ll be looking at the sky from the other side of the equator. The sky is totally different there, and arguably, grander there.”