Wyoming 2013 REU Project

Discovering and Characterizing Massive Binary Star Systems

O- and early B-type stars (15 - 60 solar masses!) produce some of nature's most spectacular explosions when they end their lives. These are supernova and gamma-ray burst explosions that are often so luminous they can outshine entire galaxies. Many, if not all, massive stars appear to be part of a binary or multiple star systems, and these companions may be essential for producing certain classes of supernova and gamma ray bursts as one star transfers mass to another. Such systems also form exotic remnants such as pulsars, neutron-star + neutron-star binaries or even neutron-star + black-hole binaries.

Our team of professors and 6 summer students will conduct an intensive spectroscopic observing campaign using the 2.3-meter Wyoming Infrared Observatory telescope to measure 1) how often massive stars have close companions, 2) how close the companions are, and 3) the masses of the companions. These are the essential ingrediants needed for theories of massive star formation and to predict the numers of explosive events throughout the universe. REU summer students will learn to observe (and be able to do a LOT of observing!) with a major telescope facility, learn common astronomical software (IRAF, IDL, Python, LaTeX, html) to reduce spectroscopic data, learn time-series analysis and orbital parameter fitting (the same techniques used to find radial velocity planets), and lead a poster presentation at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society.