Astrophysics Research Program
The primary goal of the SMU Summer QuarkNet Astrophysics program is to utilize data from the ROTSE-1 and ROTSE-3 telescopes to search for and identify short period variable stars. The variations may be intrinsic, as in pulsating stars, or extrinsic, as with eclipsing binary stars. Through studies of light curves obtained from the data, researchers (mostly ascending high shool seniors) select stars exhibiting periodicity and begin the process of isolating undiscovered variables from the data.
Data sets from public data releases, such as NSVS, CRTS, ASAS3, and SuperWASP, are also used for variable identification and for improving physics elements such as the period, minimum and maximum magnitude, epoch at minimum, and eclipse/rise duration. Variable candidates not previously identified and catalogued are then submitted to the International Variable Star Index (VSX) for verification and approval. Once accepted by VSX as discoveries and promoted to the live web site, the variable stars become publicly available to the community of variable star astronomers.
SMU QuarkNet students discovered a total of 18 variable stars during the summer of 2016. Among the discoveries was a HADS(B) --- a high amplitude Delta Scuti variable exhibiting triple mode oscillations. Out of nearly 400,000 variables currently catalogued in VSX, this is just the 86th such entry!