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Press Release
Local Students Join Cutting-Edge Scientific Project
[teacher name] a [grade] teacher at [insert school here] recently completed scientific training at the
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia. In the coming school year,
s/he will recruit and train students to join an international team of astronomers in searching for new
astronomical objects called pulsars. These students will gain access to data collected by the gigantic Robert
C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT)
“The Pulsar Search Collaboratory is an NSF-funded program that aims to increase student interest in
science, engineering, and technology careers. We use astronomical research–in this case searching for
pulsars—as the vehicle. At the same time, though, students are actually helping astronomers sift through a
massive data set,” said Sue Ann Heatherly, NRAO Senior Education Officer.
The GBT has recorded thousands of hours of survey data that could reveal pulsars, and about 25% of the
data are reserved for students like the ones from [school]. Currently the PSC is over 600 students strong.
During the school year, teams will analyze data, post their results, and share information through an online
collaboration site. All participants will present their results at an annual scientific seminar at WVU in the
Pulsars, a kind of spinning neutron star, are the corpses of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae.
While these stars were once larger than the sun, their pulsar counterparts are only as large as a city but are
very dense. A tablespoon of material from a pulsar would weigh 10 million tons. Pulsars serve as unique
space-based laboratories for studying the physics of extreme conditions. Scientists can learn valuable new
information about the physics of subatomic particles, electromagnetism, and General Relativity by
observing pulsars and the changes they undergo over time.
Pulsars are best seen from Earth by their radio waves. As a pulsar spins, lighthouse-like beams of radio
waves stream from the poles of its powerful magnetic field, sweeping through space. When one of these
beams sweeps across the Earth, radio telescopes, like the GBT, can capture its pulse.
“The students in this program are full participants in frontier astronomical research,” said Sarah Scoles,
PSC Project Manager. “They are analyzing data which has not yet been viewed by any professional
astronomer. They are assisting professional astronomers from around the world by measuring changes in
pulsars already known and discovering new pulsars.”
As Education Officer Heatherly reports, “This summer, for the first time, students actually discovered a
new pulsar during the training session. The discovery has been confirmed by follow up observations the
students conducted themselves on the GBT. It has been an exciting week!”
[Optional paragraph with quotes from teacher -- How excited they are, how much they learned, how
impressive the GBT is, etc.]
The 130 terabytes of data (nearly 1000 times the average computer's storage capacity) produced by the 17million-pound GBT are expected to reveal dozens of previously unknown pulsars. The GBT has discovered
more than 60 pulsars over the past five years, including the fastest-rotating pulsar ever found, a neutron star
that spins 716 times per second.
“This project gives high school students the chance to make groundbreaking discoveries like finding exotic
pulsar binary systems, pulsars with planetary systems, or pulsars spinning faster than currently thought
possible,” said WVU astronomer Dr. Maura McLaughlin. “But every data set analyzed , whether it
contains a pulsar or not, improves the astronomical community’s understanding of the distribution of
pulsars in the Milky Way. And that is invaluable”
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated
under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.