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GSU astronomy graduate student receives Hubble Fellowship to explore stellar sizes

Georgia State University

ATLANTA--Thanks to a prestigious fellowship awarded by NASA, Georgia State University's Tabetha Boyajian will help expand astronomers' knowledge about origins of our galaxy, and learn more about the stars which harbor planets outside of our solar system.

Boyajian, a doctoral student at Georgia State, is among 17 awardees of the Hubble Fellowship, who pursue postdoctoral research associated with NASA's Cosmic Origins Program. The missions in this program examine the origins of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems, and the evolution of these structures with time. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore administers the Hubble Fellowships for NASA.

Boyajian, who will receive her doctorate this summer, uses the CHARA Array, a long baseline optical/infrared interferometer operated by Georgia State's Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA), located at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, to measure the size of stars.

For her dissertation, Boyajian is investigating stars similar to the size of the Sun. She will begin postdoctoral work this autumn, where she will measure the size of stars that are much smaller in mass, as well as stars which have planets orbiting them.

By determining the angular diameter of stars using an interferometer, astronomers can know more about a star's effective temperature. And if a star has a planet orbiting it, scientists can more about the star's habitable zone -- the area around a star which allows a planet to support life.

"The CHARA array is a very high tech tool that we use to do this kind of science, and it's fascinating," said Boyajian, a native of Atlanta and graduate of the Galloway School. "It's information that we all need, and I think someone who is even a member of the general public can find interesting."

Her research will also focus on some of the oldest stars in the galaxy, called metal-poor stars.

"There are also a few close by from which can learn more using interferometry, and this will tell us a lot about how our galaxy formed," she explained.

Boyajian, besides working on her dissertation, is also quite busy as a recent mother, whose son Jude was born in February.

Other 2009 Hubble Fellows hail from institutions such as the University of California Santa Cruz, the Ohio State University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California Berkeley, Harvard University and Stanford University. Boyajian is the only the third person from a southeastern university to have received the fellowship.

The Hubble Fellowship is one of three types of prestigious postdoctoral fellowships awarded by NASA to support awardees for research on a wide variety of projects, including the Einstein and Sagan fellowships.

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For more information about CHARA, visit www.chara.gsu.edu/chara. For more information about the Mount Wilson Observatory, visit www.mtwilson.edu.

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