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March 2009

Release Date: March 31, 2009ASU Logo

ASU Physics Department Sponsoring Public Science Project

The Angelo State University Department of Physics and the ASU Planetarium are inviting the public to participate in an international astronomy science project.

The project involves Epsilon Aurigae, an unusual star in the Aurigae Constellation that will experience an eclipse starting this summer and lasting 714 days. Participants in the ASU project will observe and measure the changing brightness of the star as it dims and then returns to normal brightness. Their measurements will be submitted to professional astronomers to use as data for their research.

The project will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, in the ASU Planetarium and is open to adults and children. An orientation will familiarize attendees with the techniques of variable star observations. Topics discussed will include using a constellation star chart, using a variable star chart, measuring a star’s brightness, and reporting observations. The evening’s activities will conclude with actual observations of Epsilon Aurigae in the northern sky, weather permitting. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars, although no observing aid is required to participate in the project.

ASU’s efforts are part of an International Year of Astronomy project that will assemble the largest astronomy research team in history by training interested citizens, amateur scientists and students, enabling them to make the necessary observations. The goal is to actively involve the largest possible number of citizen-scientists to help astronomers increase their knowledge of the Epsilon Aurigae system. Along the way, thousands of citizens and students will learn about the process of conducting research and will find new ways to increase their science literacy skills. This project also can also be used as an excellent science project for area schools.

Epsilon Aurigae is known to be over 2000 times larger than our sun and would engulf the Earth if placed in the center of our solar system. However, many properties of this stellar system remain unknown. For example, scientists do not know if there are two, three or even more stars in the system. There is also strange mid-eclipse behavior that cannot currently be explained and the star is too bright to be observed with large telescopes.

For more information on the project, call Dr. Mark Sonntag in the ASU Planetarium at 942-2136.