This summer, Caroline Bartlett '13 of Northbridge, Mass., is learning about the origin and development of planets, stars, solar systems and galaxies first hand as she watches a unique star that could be in the very early stages of development.
Bartlett, who is serving an internship in Nantucket, Mass., at the Maria Mitchell Observatory (MMO), is in the midst of a research project that involves a star named MWC-349.
Each night, she observes the star through a 24-inch telescope, monitoring the variability she sees, which likely is due to planets starting to form around it.
"My main reason for applying to this particular internship was due to location and the history of the Maria Mitchell Association," Bartlett explained. "Maria Mitchell, one of the first American woman astronomers, is an amazing role model for women in science.
"Although this program is funded by the National Science Foundation, I am also, in part, being funded by a Massachusetts Space Grant, which is given out by MIT and funded by NASA. No other internship would have given me this double honor."
The internship also provides Bartlett with an exceptional research opportunity.
"Most observatories have several scientists working with the same telescope, and getting time on it is a difficult process. Here at MMO, I share the telescope with one other person, a fellow intern, and every clear night we observe both of our objects."
The work she's started this summer will continue into her senior year at MCLA.
"The program director is determined to get his students involved in a publication into a peer-reviewed journal," Bartlett explained. "For me, that means this fall I will have an added responsibility of preparing a paper on my star, as well as a poster for the January American Astronomical Society meeting."
She also plans to present a poster in November at a conference of Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society.
"All of these experiences are things I will also have to do in grad school, but of course on a greater level. Getting the hang of it now will give me a leg up while pursuing my Ph.D."
Spending her summer on the beach definitely is a perk, especially since she was in Australia on another internship last summer, during that country's "winter" months. However, Bartlett said the best thing about this experience is the amazing people she's met.
In June, she and the other interns at MMO went on a field trip to Harvard University, where they met renowned cosmologist Avi Loeb, as well as one of the foremost experts on Blasars. "We also got a really great tour of the MIT Haystack Observatory. I met some amazing and famous astrophysicists and astronomers, who all had different interests in cosmology, radio astronomy, planetary science, and more.
"We had dinner with an amazing astronomer named Dimitar Sasselov, who works at Harvard and has a lot of influence and information about the Kepler mission. I had a long and interesting conversation with him, and I don't think that could have ever been possible without this program.
"Not only does it give interns the opportunity to meet these amazing people, it also gives us enough knowledge with our weekly seminars to be able to hold intelligent conversations with them. I think that's the most amazing."