Cornell researchers focus on Rosette Nebula

Marshall Hobson-Ritz ’18 and Professor Kara Beauchamp are on a space exploration in the Rosette Nebula—about 5,000 light years away—for the Cornell Summer Research Institute (CSRI).

“Basically, it’s a region that’s a bunch of gas and dust particles in a region of space that also has newly formed stars, relatively young compared to other stars that we know,” Hobson-Ritz said.

Humans can only see the 2-D shape of the nebula, so they’re trying to figure out the 3-D shape—mapping out the brightness, thickness, and electron density of potential models. They’re working with data that was collected in 1985 with a radio telescope, and Marshall is learning computer coding to decipher all of the data.

“There’s no real way to tell what the right shape would be, since we can only get one view,” Hobson-Ritz said. “But we can talk about what the data looks like and if it makes physical sense for the data to look a certain way when we apply models we are making. So, we’ve come up with models that are better than ones we started with.”

This is an extension of the research Beauchamp started during CSRI 2016.

“The models we looked at last summer were all spherical, and we made some adjustments to those spherical models,” Beauchamp said. “This summer I’ve asked Marshall to look at a cylindrical model, and it turns out that working with a cylinder is significantly more difficult than working with a sphere. It has taken us several times of going back and forth, pondering how we think about this cylindrical model and come up with mathematical expressions that can tell us the thickness through the cylinder.”

Beauchamp says she’s grateful they have the luxury of spending their time thinking about these types of questions. The two have a bigger goal of understanding more deeply what’s out in the universe.

For more on their story, watch their video: