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Summer of stars
posted by Joshua Rodriguez
September 12, 2013
Summer of stars

Maggie Thompson is a sophomore at Princeton University who spent her summer with NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL in Pasadena, California. For more information about student internships at JPL, visit http://careerlaunch.jpl.nasa.gov/.

You recently completed a six-week internship at JPL. What kind of work did you do while you were here?

My job was to combine two catalogs of stars that are 30 parsecs or less from our solar system—one by the astronomer Maggie Turnbull and the other by astronomer Geoff Bryden. I had to cross-check each entry and find what information matched, was different, or was missing from each catalog. The end result is a list of approximately 2,500 nearby stars!

I also spent time reviewing an exoplanet textbook with my mentor Dr. Wes Traub, which gave me great insight into this field of astronomy.

What will this table be used for?

Since it’s a catalog of all the stars that are closest to the sun, future exoplanet missions like TESS or AFTA can use this catalog to pick targets for searching for exoplanets. Finding exoplanets orbiting nearby stars will make it much easier to study and characterize them.

What got you interested in interning at JPL?

When I was 11, I visited JPL and heard a talk from an engineer who worked on the Mars Rover and was totally blown away. That got me interested in space and now I’m an astrophysics major at Princeton.

The past three summers, I’ve interned at the NASA Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, studying brown dwarfs, which are essentially failed stars some of which are even the temperature of an oven—a fact that I’ve always thought was pretty cool.

I’ve always heard wonderful things about JPL and been interested in exoplanets, so getting to intern here and work with them is a dream come true.

What was something cool you learned this summer?

I learned a lot about future and potentially future exoplanet missions like TESS and AFTA. I also got a real appreciation for the diligence it took for Maggie Turnbull and Geoff Bryden to collect and curate all the data for their tables. I had no idea how much work was involved.

It was a cool process, though—seeing how they worked together and interacting with them directly on this data that they’d put a huge amount of effort into.