UW Today

May 18, 2011

Protostars: Girls with their eyes on the skies

News and Information

In the world of astronomy, a protostar is an early stage in the process of star formation, a process that may last 100,000 years. But those at the UW who are forming a group called Protostars are pretty sure it wont take that long to pique the interest of girls.

Protostars is a mentorship program at the University of Washington run by female astronomy undergraduates and geared toward 12- to 16-year- old girls who are enamored with astronomy. Its having its first meeting on June 1.

During an observatory open house, Olivia Humes helps people to build mini telescopes which are made out of cardboard and two lenses. They are much like the seafaring telescopes of old.

During an observatory open house, Olivia Humes helps people to build mini telescopes which are made out of cardboard and two lenses. They are much like the seafaring telescopes of old.Protostars

The group was first proposed by Olivia Humes, a high school freshman who is already a regular at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on Memorial Way.

“Ive always been interested in astronomy,” Humes said. “I remember being really little and being fascinated with astronauts and stuff like that.”

She said her mom found the observatory a couple of years ago and started taking her to open houses. She listened to undergraduates give lectures and decided that shed like to give a lecture of her own. So she became a volunteer at the observatory, and soon she was expounding on cosmology and on spectra for the visitors there. And, she thought, if she enjoyed the observatory this much, why wouldnt other girls in her age group?

Humes posed that question to Ana Larson, the senior lecturer who is the director of the observatory, and to undergraduate volunteers. The result was Protostars.

Among the undergraduates, Laura Mayorga has taken the lead on getting the group going. Shes created a website and designed a curriculum in collaboration with others.

A student astronomer uses the 16 inch Meade 200ACF telescope on the A wing deck of the Physics/Astronomy Building.    This is the telescope that the Protostars members would use for their observations.

A student astronomer uses the 16 inch Meade 200ACF telescope on the A wing deck of the Physics/Astronomy Building. This is the telescope that the Protostars members would use for their observations.Mary Levin

Mayorga said members will learn the basics of telescope operation and data reduction in the group. And like Humes, theyll research and present a topic. “If theyre brave enough they can present during an observatory open house,” Mayorga said. “Or, they could just present for the others in the group.”

The telescope theyll use isnt the 1895 antique in the observatory, but a more modern model on the A wing deck of the Physics/Astronomy Building.

“Well have them pick an object in the sky — a galaxy or a nebula or something cool — and have them take some images — basically do what we call an observing run,” Mayorga said. “Then well have them do some analysis and prepare a report.”

Mayorga said she was interested in working on the group because, like Humes, she liked science, especially astronomy, from an early age.

“If I had had an opportunity like this when I was younger, I think I would have jumped at it, so Im happy to help,” she said. “Besides, I think it will be fun.”

Mayorga plans to go to graduate school in astronomy when she graduates in 2012. As for Humes, shes already planning a career in the field and says shed like to teach some day.

The Protostars program is slated to run all summer. The frequency of meetings hasnt been decided yet, but will depend to some degree on how many girls participate, Mayorga said. Anyone interested can sign up to be on the email list: uwprotostars@gmail.com.