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Oberlin College Astronomer to Use Herschel Space Telescope

Dec. 28, 2008

Martin Chris 200px

Chris Martin, Oberlin assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is heading a coalition of scientists from Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Massachusetts, and Arizona, that will be able to look out in space 25,000 light-years after the Herschel Space Observatory infrared telescope, the most powerful radio and infrared space telescope ever built, is launched in spring 2009.  

In preparation, Martin is currently at work determining the type of data the telescope's 3.5-meter mirror will gather on material near the center of the Milky Way. He hopes to use these data to understand how cold clouds of dust and gas flow into the black hole at the heart of our galaxy.  

The European Space Agency and NASA will put the observatory into orbit several months later at the second Lagrange point – a pre-eminent location for advanced space probes nearly four times the distance of the moon from the earth – for use during the next three years by Martin, the coalition, and other astronomers around the world.

Martin's project was proposed in February 2007, and was one of only 21 chosen in an open competition.  

Working with Martin on his project is Everett Schlawin, an Oberlin College senior from Princeton Junction, New Jersey, who is majoring physics. He is creating the program needed to assimilate the data to be received from Herschel using experience he gained while working on a project with similar goals during summer study at the University of Wyoming. He says he plans to earn a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics and is benefiting immensely from working with Martin.

"Chris is an incredible resource," Schlawin says. "Be it a technical difficulty or a question about the spectrum of a high-temperature star, his competence and eagerness in both computers and astrophysics make the most daunting problems all the more conquerable. I can steer straight ahead, knowing that I can turn to him for help with any obstacle." 

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