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A Summer Spent Working on the Hubble

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Two interns at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., describe the highlights of working at the research center responsible for operating the Hubble Space Telescope.


When college students return to class this fall, some will have an especially interesting answer to the question, `What did you do this summer?' That includes Amanda Dotson and Kelsey Clubb, two people we'll meet as we start an occasional series. They're budding astronomers who have traded sunny days at the beach for internships at the terrestrial home of the Hubble Telescope. It's the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the interns have offered to take us along on a tour.

Ms. AMANDA DOTSON (St. Mary's College of Maryland): I'm Amanda Dotson. I go to St. Mary's College of Maryland. I graduate next year. I'll be a senior.

Ms. KELSEY CLUBB (University of Iowa): I am Kelsey Clubb, and I'll be a junior this fall at the University of Iowa, and my job is working on what's called the GOODS Project, which is basically having three of the largest telescopes in the world at three different wavelengths and taking very long exposure times so we can see far, far back into the past of our universe.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Ms. DOTSON: This is Amanda. This is flight operations. It's kind of where it all happens. They're sending up commands and there's data basically continuously coming down. Four people here, 24/7, obviously in different shifts, and each of them monitors a different aspect of the Hubble.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Ms. CLUBB: This is Kelsey. This is Mario Livio's office, and he's actually a prominent author of--his first book was, like, "The Accelerating Universe," which was the story of how one of the groups here determined that the universe was actually accelerating instead of staying the same or decelerating, and that was actually a pretty big find. And he also wrote a pretty well-known book called "The Golden Ratio."

Ms. DOTSON: This is Amanda. I just finished reading "The Golden Ratio." It's kind of like a number, like in math, like pi or e, and it's an irrational number, which means it's decimal. It doesn't end. And it was just fascinating because it shows up in more places than just geometry. You can see it in the arrangement between the angle of a tree branch so it gets the maximum amount of light, and, like, spirals in pine cones and sunflower seeds.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Ms. DOTSON: This is my humble little corner. All of my work is on the computer. And the program I'm using right now is called DS-9(ph). It's just for imaging. This is a set of galaxies. It's a long galaxy. It's a DDO 154, which is the name of it. Galaxies have very unexciting names like that. And it almost looks like a cloud but with lots of bright spots and lots of shadows. But instead of being like a cloud in our atmosphere, it's just a huge, gigantic--thousands and millions of stars, and these bright spots are just clusters and clusters and clusters of stars. Galaxies are thousands of light years across. It's impossible to fathom.

The astronomy community is trying to learn more about what our universe does, and why it does it and how it functions. In this particular case it's the star formation. They know a lot about star formation, or they think they do, on an individual scale, but that's mostly from stuff in the Milky Way, and we're not sure if our galaxy is a typical galaxy or an atypical galaxy. So by looking at other galaxies, they can figure out, you know, what the norm is. This is just, like, a huge learning opportunity where I can actually, like, learn what astronomers do and, like, meet people who do this all day and who love to do it.

INSKEEP: Amanda Dotson and fellow college student Kelsey Clubb have been spending their summer interning at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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