This week in Dr. Barlow’s Universe

Rodrigo Catalan-Hurtado is using the 1.5-meter SMARTS telescope in Chile to collect nightly optical spectra of a newly-discovered binary star system. The attached figure shows an example of a single spectral image. The bright vertical “stripes” are individual spectral orders that together cover the wavelength range 450 nm (leftmost order) to 850 nm (rightmost order). Molecular absorption lines due to oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and even atomic absorption lines due to interstellar sodium are visible by eye. Absorption features from the binary stars are more difficult to see and will require computer modeling to analyze. Rodrigo is currently writing his own software (in Python) to analyze the data and ultimately measure the orbital velocities, orbital period, and masses of the stars. We’re hoping for some stellar results!