A Star for All | Teen Ink

A Star for All MAG

March 27, 2019
By Miratge GOLD, Moscow, Idaho
Miratge GOLD, Moscow, Idaho
13 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
-Albert Einstein

Since the advent of tools such as telescopes and spectrographs, knowledge in astronomy has exploded. We can now map the landscapes of the planets in our solar system with hair-thin precision. The Hubble Space Telescope allows us to know the exact velocities of far-away galaxies. NASA’s Explorer 66 mission in the 90s investigated the cosmic background radiation that pervades the universe and has provided key pieces of evidence for the Big Bang Theory.

Even so, much about space is still unknown. Equipment like orbit telescopes is expensive to build and requires painstaking attention to operate. More problematically, the sheer number of objects in the sky to study overburdens the equipment that we do have. As such, many objects in the observable universe go undiscovered. Perhaps the most prevalent of these objects is stars. Despite the millions of stars that have been catalogued and classified, there are still billions more in our night sky that have not been logged in any database. This is a huge gap in astronomy—such lack of knowledge has the potential to deeply flaw our understanding of the universe and thus hinder our development of space technology.

However, stars, unlike most other celestial objects, do not require massive equipment to see and classify. The average amateur astronomer’s telescope can already have 300x magnification, more than enough to observe stars. At 300x magnification, we can already see the most important characteristic of a star: its spectral type. The spectral type, detected as the color of the star, determines the stellar temperature. It is used to determine the ages of galaxies, find habitable exoplanets, and calculate the life span of our sun.

Thus, if I were the CEO of Virgin Galactic, I would create a mobile application that can mobilize the strength of the astronomy hobbyists around the world to fill in our knowledge of the stars. The core concept is simple: since the spectral type is indicated by the color of a star, it can be captured through a basic camera lens. Hence, this mobile application would allow astronomers to take pictures of stars through their telescopes. Then, the app would run an automated algorithm on the picture to determine the color of the star, and therefore its spectral type.

Better yet, by zooming out the telescope so that a recognizable star such as the North Star or Sirius is also in view, the app can calculate the coordinates of the classified star. This is a function that is already done in many computerized telescopes; it would be relatively easy to add this capability to a mobile app. Therefore, the two most important data points about a star, its celestial coordinates and its spectral type, can be gathered using existing programming knowledge. Once the data is collected, it can then be logged into a database for scientific use.

With such an application, we can democratize science. Not only will this mobile app help increase our knowledge of our skies, but it will also be a tool to engage the public in scientific progress. This is perhaps the most far-reaching aspect of the app—allowing people from all kinds of backgrounds to contribute to the sum of human knowledge. Imagine how empowering it will feel for aspiring scientists and the generally curious to make real, tangible progress to science, something that is often capital-intensive.

When we look into the night sky, it may seem daunting, vast, and mysterious. However, this does not have to always be the case. The innovativeness of this app lies in its ability to connect high-level astronomical research with people of all levels of scientific education. It is designed to spark interest in astronomy, to make science more accessible, and to encourage up-and-coming scientists by allowing them to make impactful contributions to the study of stars. All of this will help largen the scientific community, increase scientific discussion, and provide an emotionally uplifting spirit to rigorous research. Versatile, accessible, and emboldening, this app will help demystify the darkness of space—the farthest and perhaps the most frightening thing humanity’s ever known.

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