Assistant Professor Matthew Povich of the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Physics & Astronomy has been awarded a 3-year grant by the National Science Foundation Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program. Dr. Povich and Dr. Henry Kobulnicky of the University of Wyoming will lead an international collaboration, enlisting the help of tens of thousands of internet users via the Milky Way Project to search for and study stellar wind bow shocks around massive stars throughout our Milky Way Galaxy.
Bow shocks can form where the powerful winds blowing from massive stars encounter surrounding interstellar gas. The key ingredient is either a star moving at high velocity relative to the interstellar gas, a so-called "runaway" massive star, or a high-velocity flow of interstellar gas past a star. Hence bow shocks allow astronomers to learn more about the winds of massive stars and catch runaway stars in the act of flying through the Galaxy.
This grant will also fund a new research opportunity for Cal Poly Pomona students, the California-Wyoming Astronomy Research Exchange (CAWARE). For each of the next three summers, one student will be selected for a 10-week CAWARE internship. CAWARE interns will spend the first weeks of the summer working with Dr. Povich at Cal Poly Pomona to be introduced to the basic science and software tools involved in the research, after which they will travel to Laramie, WY to spend the remaining weeks working directly with Dr. Kobulnicky and his students at the University of Wyoming. CAWARE interns will assist with hands-on observing projects to obtain spectra of massive stars driving bow shocks using the 2.3-meter WIRO telescope in the mountains near Laramie. CAWARE interns will be selected through the annual application process for the CAMPARE summer research program.
(Right) Image of a bowshock near the Carina Nebula from a paper accepted to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society led by Remington Sexton, Cal Poly Pomona class of 2013 (Sexton et al. 2014).