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Physics student wins chance to reach for the stars

November 25, 2003

Austin Peay senior Billy Teets had the opportunity to reach for the stars last summer through his work with the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA).

The physics major was selected for a 10-week study of variable stars with astronomers at East Tennessee State University, as well as a trip to Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona. As an observer/assistant/data analyzer, Teets calibrated images of the stars, extracted information from them and prepared the data for analysis.

Teets says, “We studied the Mira-type variable stars. Back in the 1500s, astronomers noticed the star, Mira, would be bright and then dim gradually for months until it was no longer visible. Several months later, it would gradually reappear.

‘This star and others like it, which are nearing the ends of their lives, make excellent observing program stars, because their brightness variations are so large.”

As a result of the summer research experience, Teets plans to pursue stellar astronomy as a career. “The program was very exciting for me,” he says. “I was able to use a telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, and seeing some of the telescopes that have made monumental contributions to our understanding of the universe was an absolutely wonderful experience for me.”

The Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy paid Teets $3,500 in wages, as well as room and board and funds for the trip to Arizona.
—Rebecca Mackey