Dec 11th, 2014

Astro-Physics: It’s Worth a Google

If you’ve been on Google today, you might have noticed that today is Annie Jump Cannon’s 151st birthday. Cannon was an American astronomer whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of star classifications. HPU’s robust Astronomy & Physics program has been thriving lately with several discoveries, additions and advancements of their own. Here’s the year in review from the HPU Astronomy & Physics department:


  • HPUniverse Day, Sept. 19, was a free, family-friendly, educational outreach astronomy event for the community. Kids of all ages participated in hovercraft rides, observed Mars and Saturn through a Dobsonian telescope, competed in astronomy Jeopardy!, launched water bottle rockets and more.


  • A group of three physics students traveled to the top of the Andes Mountains in Chile to observe the universe using the SMARTS telescopes at the Cerro Tololo International Observatory, one of the most well-known observing sites for professional astronomers in the world. Eugene Filk, Aaron Marlow and Tyler Hockett joined Dr. Brad Barlow to observe a potential binary pulsar system, and they plan to submit their findings to a peer-reviewed journal soon.Chile-Telescope-1-1024x767


  • Astronomy and physics students successfully launched the first payload-carrying balloon into near-space. The purpose of the project was to launch the balloon 100,000 feet from HPU’s campus, take images and videos of the near-space environment and retrieve the payload intact. The first launch was a success, with the balloon reaching 90,000 feet and payload returning to earth over 150 miles east of HPU in a field just outside of Bethel, N.C.



  • Junior physics major Stephen Vultaggio discovered a new Rapidly-Pulsating Hot Subdwarf Star, which he presented at he 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Washington, D.C. He discovered the star through remote access to the robotic PROMPT telescopes in Chile, and with the assistance of Dr. Brad Barlow, assistant professor of astrophysics at HPU. Vultaggio is currently working on publishing his findings.


  • Assistant physics professor Dr. Brianna Fiser was granted a U.S. Patent for a medical diagnostic device that could eventually help save lives. Fiser developed small, micron-sized rods, which can be used to detect how well a patient’s blood is clotting.


  • Sir Isaac Newton became the most recent addition to the collection of 22 historical sculpture figures on campus.  Newton is one of the most influential scientists of all time and was a key figure in the scientific revolution. He laid the foundations for most of classical mechanics and built the first practical reflection telescope.


At HPU, the discoveries, projects and activities of the astronomy and physics department are not just reserved for majors. Students at HPU can also elect to take an introduction to astronomy class as to fulfill their general education lab science credit. Taught by Dr. Brad Barlow, assistant professor of astrophysics, the class has received some extremely positive feedback from science majors and non-majors alike.

“Astronomy is often considered a gateway subject into the sciences; it can provide the right ‘hook’ needed for students to get interested in and later pursue degrees in the sciences, whether physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology or something else,” says Barlow. “Astronomy is probably the least hands-on science out there in some ways. We can’t touch the objects we study because they’re in outer-space at great distances, but I still strive to be very hands-on.”

When you look up at the night sky, what do you see? Thanks to the astronomy and physics department, HPU students see endless possibilities!