Searching the Stars: Faculty Astronomer Compiles Star Database
Cameron Reed is an admitted stargazer.
The Alma College professor of physics, though, has his eyes set on a specific kind of star — the luminous hot, blue ones found in the spiral arms of galaxies like the Milky Way.
Blue stars are hot, extremely rare, short-lived and massive — as much as 60 times as massive as the Earth’s Sun. There are an estimated 200,000 blue stars in the Milky Way — a drop in the bucket compared to the approximately 400 billion stars in all.
Reed has developed the world’s largest comprehensive database on these hot, blue stars. The database contains more than 60,000 lines of information on the characteristics of close to 19,000 individual stars, including their positions in the sky and photometric and spectral data that are important to astronomers.
“These are stars in the bluish spiral patterns of the galaxy,” says Reed. “The bluish color is due to very high surface temperatures. They are extremely rare and live to only about 20 million years, compared to our sun, which is five billion years old.
“Blue stars have 10 to 60 times the mass of the sun. The more mass a star has, the quicker it goes through its life cycle. After 20 million years, they become supernovas,” he says.
Astronomers from all over the world use Reed’s online database, including large groups of blue star researchers in Argentina and France. Blue stars have value in studies of galactic structure and chemistry, regions of star birth, and supernova physics.
Reed has devoted more than 15 years to building the database. He monitors astronomy and physics research journals for new information about blue stars, which he adds to his database on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
“I started as a graduate student, when I realized that nobody has compiled all the information that is known about these stars,” he says. “This project kind of grew on me. Researchers who are interested in these kinds of stars have told me they use the database and publish research articles based on the information in the database.
“Being at a place like Alma College is ideal because I can work on the database while I teach,” he says. “I don’t need vast research grants to continue my work.”
Reed, an Alma faculty member since 1992, teaches a range of courses, from freshman-level physics to senior-level quantum mechanics. He has published more than 80 research papers in peer-reviewed physics and astronomy journals. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Waterloo, Canada.
“One of the things that interested me in astronomy was that it covers the extreme range of physics,” he says. “You need to know about atoms and how they react, and you need to know about processes that happen at the nuclear level. Astronomy integrates various time scales, from the billion year life cycles of stars to the supernova explosions that occur in a single second. It involves an extreme range of physics, motion, time and energy.”
Reed also is the author of a new textbook, Quantum Mechanics, written especially for junior-level students at small colleges. The textbook, which includes 425 pages, 10 chapters, and a 200-page solutions manual, will be published later in 2007.
Posted: Thu, February 15th, 2007 at 9:08AM