Guest Post: Astronomy and Me - Sophia

Sophia - talk to her on twitter: @Pharaoness
I recently met Sophia on twitter, where she actively engages in discussions on topics of an astronomical nature. She kindly agreed to write a guest post for Blogstronomy in which she talks a bit about what she's studying, why she's into astronomy, and what interesting stuff is happening right now. I'm hoping she'll agree to a few more posts in the future!

My name is Sophia Nasr, and I am majoring in astrophysics at York University in Toronto, Canada. This field requires a solid grasp of mathematics (particularly advanced calculus), an understanding of the dynamics of chemistry, and of course, physics. Thus these are the courses we take in my major, with the focus becoming increasingly physics-related in the later years.

York University is home to one of the most popular observatories in Canada, to which people from all over the world come to get a tour of the cosmos through our 40-cm telescope. I am pleased to have the opportunity to work at the York University Observatory. As a staff member, I get the opportunity to host online public viewings on Mondays, accessible by anyone with an internet connection at http://astronomy.blog.yorku.ca/online-public-viewing/ where we take online viewers on a tour of the cosmos by showing images taken with our 40-cm as well as showing a live feed! I also host public viewings on Wednesday nights where the public is welcome to come in and view objects through our 40-cm telescope in person. The York University Observatory also holds a 60-cm telescope dedicated to researching variable stars, which are unstable internally and thus pulsate, expanding and contracting in radius. I take part in gathering data on variable stars. The objective of this research is to monitor the behaviour of these variable stars and note any changes in the manner in which they pulsate.

Saturn, by Ted Rudyk, York University Observatory 
I am pleased to have recently been asked to take the Senior Executive position in the York University Astronomy Club, which is a club on campus dedicated to inspiring astronomy enthusiasts and spreading knowledge about the universe to its members. During our meetings, we engage in various activities including playing fun astronomy-related games like Jeopardy (astronomy style!), booking lectures on various topics about astronomy, and giving students a chance to meet new friends with like interests. It is a great way to get people acquainted with all things astronomy!

What fascinates me most in the field of astronomy is the mysterious black hole. The laws of physics as we know them break down at the singularity, and we have yet to resolve this breakdown! This has always been an exciting mystery to me. I would like to contribute to finding a theory that resolves this mystery in my lifetime. Neutron stars are also fascinating objects in the universe. The density of the matter that makes up neutron star is unfathomable: a teaspoon of this matter would weigh over TWO BILLION TONS!

A recent major step forward in the field of astronomy is the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity, an advanced rover with innovative technology that will be able to better analyse the contents of Martian soil in order to find whether any microbial life exists (or once existed). I believe the Curiosity landing will lead space agencies to send probes to places like Jupiter’s moon Europa. The reason why this is important is because Europa is a candidate object in our solar system which may hold life in its suspected subsurface oceans due to tidal heating created by the immense gravity of Jupiter, which may cause hydrothermal vents. On Earth, microbial life does form near hydrothermal vents, so I think Europa would be the best bet for finding life elsewhere within our solar system. One of the most important scientific quests is that of finding life beyond Earth, and no astronomer would deny how important it is.

M81 (Bode's Galaxy), by Ted Rudyk,
York University Observatory
The summer of 2012 has been very exciting for the world of science, with the discovery of the Higgs boson and the landing of Curiosity on Mars. With these developments, I think the next big thing will be the discovery of microbial life on Mars or proof that some form of life once existed there. I also think that the discovery of the particle responsible for dark matter is on the horizon, and particle physicists at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) will be aggressively searching for it now that the Higgs boson has been found. Particle physicists at the LHC have also expressed a desire to find out whether or not supersymmetry holds, and this is also very exciting for the world of physics.

I think the world of astronomy is only going to get more exciting from here: Technology is improving, which will allow us to better study and analyse new developments; the general public is also becoming more and more interested in astronomy. These are very exciting times for the realm of astronomy, and I am delighted to see how many people are taking joy in the wonders of the universe!

I have included above a few wonderful images taken at the York University Observatory. None were taken by me; all were taken by a colleague and soon-to-be graduate student in astrophysics by the name of Ted Rudyk. He is a great astrophotographer, and has taken many beautiful images using our 40-cm telescope at the York University Observatory.



Thanks Sophia! Would you like to write a blog post for Blogstronomy? Just get in touch via twitter or use the form, Luke!

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