Bioscience Teacher Milton Johnson and Students Are Searching the Milky Way Galaxy

Posted by Communications on 8/25/2016

Bioscience teacher Milton Johnson and four students are searching the Milky Way Galaxy for newly forming stars. They are getting some help from a NASA astronomer as part of the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP).

Johnson and senior Cassandra Montufar, and juniors Elizabeth Chiffelle, Lis San Emerterio and Anthony Aragon spent a week at Caltech in July at a training workshop with their partner scientist Dr. Luisa Rebull. The team was trained in the scientific techniques that were needed to continue and complete their research project. Teamed with two other teachers from California and Oregon, and their students, the group began sorting through data on 30,000 stars in our galaxy in order to identify a much smaller pool of young, newly forming stars. At Caltech they learned specific data analysis techniques. They also toured the Jet Propulsion labs in Pasadena, which are responsible for managing all of NASA’s deep space missions.

The team is looking for forming stars less than 10 million years old, in a star-forming region of the Milky Way, known as Cepheus C. Their project title is “Finding High Quality Young Star Candidates in Ceph C.” The team will present at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in Texas, in January. 

“We are using images taken by several of NASA’s infrared space telescopes,” Johnson said. “Dr. Rebull’s professional team is trying to identify young stars in this region of space so they can do further research on how stars form. We hope to find maybe 50-100 Young Stellar Objects (YSOs) by the end of our work.” Thus far, the students have worked really hard and done a tremendous job learning the science and processing the data.” 

Johnson applied for the nationwide program in 2015 and was one of six new teachers selected. NITARP works with educators because they can reach thousands for students per year, with information about how science really works, what NASA does, and the availability of astronomy data the public has access to.