Public Release: 

NASA astronaut to speak to professional, amateur astronomers gathering in Huntsville April 13-15

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

NASA astronaut Dr. John Grunsfeld, a physicist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, will speak at the 89th meeting of the American Association of Variable Star Observers at 8:30 p.m., April 15 at the Marriott Hotel in Huntsville, Ala.

Grunsfeld has flown on three Space Shuttle flights, including the 1999 mission to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. He studies objects that emit high-energy X-rays and gamma rays, working with astrophysicists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville to analyze data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

Media are invited to attend the association's meetings and lectures, or to schedule interviews with Grunsfeld and other astronomers by contacting Steve Roy of the Marshall Center's Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034.

The conference activities will kick off Thursday, April 13 with the first High-Energy Astrophysics Workshop for Amateur Astronomers, sponsored by the Marshall Center and the Star Observers Association. Speakers are leaders in high-energy astrophysics, including Marshall Center astrophysicists Dr. Martin Weisskopf, Chandra chief scientist; and Dr. Gerald Fishman, principal investigator for the Burst and Transient Source Experiment, the main instrument for detecting gamma-ray bursts on the Compton Observatory.

"This is the first-ever high-energy astronomy workshop for amateurs who practice astronomy as a hobby," said Fishman. "Many amateurs use sophisticated equipment and have contributed astronomical data used in the forefront of research."

In early March, a group of astronomers in Buffalo, N.Y., obtained an image of the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst - a powerful explosion near the edge of the universe. The hobbyists, members of the Buffalo Astronomical Association, used a 40-year-old telescope and a homemade camera to capture the afterglow on film. Professional astronomers have accomplished this feat only a few times.

A special workshop session on coordinating gamma-ray burst afterglow observations will be held at 8 a.m. Friday, April 14. "Seeing these bursts and other objects in a variety of energy ranges helps us learn more about what causes these mysterious explosions," said Fishman.

Conference sessions on Saturday, April 15, include presentations by association members and conclude with Grunsfeld's presentation.

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To view a related story on the workshop and meeting, please visit: http://science.nasa.gov

More information on the American Association of Variable Star Observers meeting is available at: http://www.aavso.org/meetings/00spring_announce.stm

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