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Home is where evolved stars live

Raised of $4,130 Goal
Funded on 8/16/21
Successfully Funded
  • $5,243
  • 126%
  • Funded
    on 8/16/21

About This Project

Stars end their lives forming beautiful nebulae. On the way towards illuminating nebulae, many of them enter an unstable stage of life where the star’s surface pulsates, producing a rhythmic pattern of light that can be observed by astronomers. An example of this are RV Tauri Variable Stars. These stars are particularly important in understanding the end of a stars' life. My goal is to create a new list of RV Tauri Variable Stars from a list of potential candidates.

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What is the context of this research?

RV Tauri Variable Stars perform a rhythm where every second pulsation and drop in light is deeper than the first one. The dips in the light from these stars perform a pattern which continuously repeats on the time scale of 20-40 days. These stars are fascinating since they exist in a relatively short-lived phase of stellar evolution and will help us better understand the transition of stars to their final stages of life. Many of the RV Tau stars were initially classified 50-100 years ago using early techniques and by-eye telescopic observations. Recently, careful scrutiny of the catalog of RV Tau stars suggests there are imposters and misclassified variables amongst the catalog.

Citation: (Bodi & Kiss 2019, Graber & Montez 2021)

What is the significance of this project?

My research will expose these imposters. Our goal this summer is to clean up the catalog of RV Tau variable stars using new existing and archival observations and the latest all-sky catalogs of stellar properties. In the process we will also identify stars that need further study and seek new avenues to monitor them.

This research will help further understand the last breaths of a star's life. It allows me to explore an area that I have held close for a long time and started this scientific journey for me. At my university there is no research going on in astronomy. This will be my first opportunity to conduct astronomical research on a telescope larger than the little one I got when I was 12!

What are the goals of the project?

1. Execute observing run at MMO to collect data on RV Tauri Variable Stars

Going to the MMO also helps gain exposure to astronomy research methods as I learn to operate and utilize a telescope.

2. Exposing the imposters and verifying true RV Tauri Variable Stars from the list of candidates

The changes in the light from these stars is periodic, occurring within 20-40 days. It's a pattern that continues until it reaches the end of its life. Due to this, I will travel to the telescope to collect data every 20-40 days.

3. Sharing what I've learned

During this research experience I am excited to share my knowledge through scientific communications and public outreach. I want to get young people excited to dream big.


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All of the items listed above represent the necessary costs, providing the basic needs for staying at the Maira Mitchell Observatory (MMO) in Nantucket and utilizing their 24-inch Ritchey-Chretien Telescope. This telescope has B, V, R, I, and narrowband H-alpha plus nearby continuum (narrow bands to the sides of H-alpha) filters available which will assist in our data acquisition. The telescope support fee includes not only observing, but training in using the telescope from MMO staff. It will also support backup observing nights since we have to be cautious of the weather (clouds) disrupting our viewings. I will visit the observatory 3-4 times during the 20-40 day variability period to collect the necessary data on the sampled RV Tau Variable stars.

Endorsed by

Rachel is diving into an important but overlooked problem on the classification of evolved variable stars. The stars Rachel is studying and categorizing help piece together to relatively rapid evolution of sun-like stars to their ultimate end states. Rachel's enthusiastic drive, growing experience with light curves, and attention to detail will serve her and the project well on those long nights at the observatory.

Project Timeline

During the summer and fall, my advisor and I will be taking several trips to the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket to observe the specified stars that we have picked to properly characterize them, due to their 20-40 day variability nature. After the observations, we will collect data on the stars we have identified to analyze and continue our research and identify stars that are in need of more study. This also includes looking for new ways to monitor the given stars.

Jul 14, 2021

Project Launched

Aug 29, 2021

Train using the telescope

Aug 29, 2021

Make observations

Sep 19, 2021

Adjust observations depending on visibility and weather

Oct 10, 2021

Reducing data

Meet the Team

Rachel Nere
Rachel Nere

Rachel Nere

As a child, I was always curious about everything like any child is. I wondered about the world and what would go on around it. But one day at night when I was six, I looked up into the night sky and thought to myself, “This is natural and untouched, the one thing people can’t change.” I continued to stare and then thought, “I wonder what makes the universe tick?” As I got older I thought of the universe as art on a canvas. I didn’t know it yet but that moment shaped my life forever. As time went on, it branched off into my love for physics and STEM. This opportunity as a Latino Initiative Intern at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian has given me the chance to finally explore the love that ignited this scientific journey. It has reminded me of why I fell in love with the subject in the first place. It blossoms and cultivates curiosity as we are a part of a mystery that is beyond our imaginations, while we continue to understand and learn it.

Additional Information

The observation aspect will come directly through the use of the telescope. From there I will take the data, analyze it, generate an accurate catalogue to share with the scientific community.

Outreach is one of the most significant factors for me personally. It gives the chance to hopefully create a spark of curiosity, fascination, and wonder into the minds of upcoming scientists. It may very well pave the way for others to continue the curiosity of our ever-expanding universe. This project on evolved stars is a component of that mystery that will one day have a bigger impact and create the stepping stones for those who want to embark upon this path if they so desire. I want to make an impact not only scientifically, but socially as well. I want to help others know and understand that if they believe or were taught that they are incapable or likewise, it is false. Anyone and everyone is capable of doing such scientific research or anything that drives their zeal. Thank you for your support which will make this work possible!

Cover Image: Courtesy of ESO online digitized sky survey

Project Backers

  • 9Backers
  • 126%Funded
  • $5,243Total Donations
  • $582.56Average Donation
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