Astronomy Students Observe the Skies from Arecibo


Drs. Rose Finn, Michele McColgan and six Siena College physics students recently traveled to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, home to the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, to put to practice what they learned in Dr. Finn’s Observational Astronomy class. The group spent three nights at the observatory where the students engaged in controlling the mammoth telescope to collect radio photons emitted by the hydrogen gas in nearby galaxies, some 700 million light years away. 
 
Upon return to Siena, the students analyzed the data as part of a survey led by Cornell astronomers called ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA survey), that relies upon astronomers and students from liberal arts colleges such as Siena to help obtain and analyze the data. Siena has been a member of the ALFALFA Undergraduate team for six years, and many former and current Siena students have traveled to the observatory with Dr. Finn for an undergraduate-focused workshop. This was the first time that Siena students went to the observatory for the sole purpose of observing, and the first time an entire class was able to participate. 
 
According to Dr. Finn, “The trip gave the students an opportunity to work at a world-class facility and to be part of a large research collaboration; it is hard to comprehend the scale of the telescope from a picture, and the trip helped the students understand the enormous collaborative effort that drives such research facilities.” Junior physics major Thaddeus Savery commented that, “Our tour guide gave us an in depth description of how the telescope worked, while we were on it. I was terrified for a while since we were up so high, but it was an experience I will never forget. Both the experience and the information we learned while on the telescope was definitely the most interesting part of this trip.”
 
The trip was made possible through the generous support of the National Science Foundation and the Siena College School of Science.