Edmunds Central student & teacher participate in NASA research

Edmunds Central student & teacher participate in NASA research
Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 7:33 PM CDT
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ROSCOE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - An educator and student from Edmunds Central are the first from South Dakota to receive an astronomical opportunity.

Science teacher Spencer Cody and his student, Theo Haerter, are helping NASA conduct real research through the IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP).

Through the program, a small group of educators and students from across the country get to tap into NASA’s massive data collection to, hopefully, discover something about space.

”The thing is that so much data is collected at such a rate that there’s a lot of potential research there, so NITARP focuses on having teachers work with their students on a research team to develop a research project,” said Cody.

Their project compares data from the observatory of Gaia to data from the infrared observatory WISE to try and solve a mystery even NASA doesn’t have the answer to.

”What we’re trying to figure out is why is it that Gaia is reporting AGN, that’s active galactic nuclei, billions of lightyears away. Why is it reporting that they’re having parallax? So, this apparent movement, that’s something that only stars that are really close to Earth should have,” said Cody.

The research could lead to the discovery of a mechanical issue within Gaia or something greater.

“This has not been researched before. So, to some extent, we’re really kind of hoping we’re going to find something big here. It looks like we’ve definitely confirmed that what shouldn’t be happening is happening, but we haven’t said, ‘Oh, well this is a great new way to identify a different type of young, developing galaxy’ or something like that. It hasn’t quite panned out like that, but it still could so, we’ll see,” said Cody.

After meeting virtually every week since January, Cody and Haerter traveled to the California Institute of Technology in July to join the rest of their research team to tour the IPAC facilities. Other students and educators on the research team come from Texas, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Cody and Haerter are the first to represent South Dakota in the program.

”As a high school student, it’s just really cool because even college students don’t get to do this all the time. To be here from a random town in South Dakota, it’s just awesome to be able to go to Caltech and perform real NASA research and feel like it matters,” said Haerter.

For Cody, getting to conduct NASA research is a dream for any small-town educator.

”One of the things, if you teach in a small school, you’re going to teach all of the sciences or most of them. I don’t have a lot of research experience in astronomy. This is very different to have this experience and then also, to learn about a very narrow area of astronomy that I didn’t really know much at all about before,” said Cody.

After spending a year on the project, Cody and Haerter will travel to New Orleans in January of 2024 to present their research to the American Astronomical Society.