Episode 120: How Do You Measure the Size and Shape of a Star?

Meet the Expert: Dr. Gerard van Belle, astronomer, and chief scientist for the the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer

Dr. Gerard van Belle

Dr. van Belle joined Lowell Observatory’s science staff in 2011. He has applied the highest-resolution, highest-precision, astronomical techniques to detect such nearby exoplanets and map the surfaces of stars.

He has worked on every major optical interferometer on the planet, including the Infrared-Optical Telescope Array, the Palomar Testbed Interferometer (PTI), the CHARA Array, the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, and the Keck Interferometer. His pioneering stellar surface imaging work on PTI won him the first director’s research award at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is now the chief scientist for the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer, having completed his tenure as director from 2017-2018.

Here’s a fun page where Dr. van Belle talks about his Life as an Astronomer.


WHAT IS the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer?





Experiment: Can you align a mirror?

Items needed:

Bathroom with mirror on the wall
Hand mirror
Optional: small flashlight

1) Face bathroom mirror
2) Put the hand mirror next to your head
3) Look at the hand mirror in the bathroom mirror reflection
4) Look into that hand mirror reflection for another reflection of that hand mirror (and yourself)
5) Repeat

Advanced, with flashlight:
1) Face bathroom mirror
2) Put the hand mirror next to your head
3) Turn on flashlight, place between hand mirror and your head
4) Turn off bathroom lights
5) Look for flashlight hand mirror reflection

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Beyond book by Miranda Paul


Highlighted book for this episode! 

Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space
by Miranda Paul (Author), Sija Hong (Illustrator)







Book List: 

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco

The Hubble Space Telescope: Our Eye on the Universe by Terence Dickinson and Tracy Read

Exoplanets by Seymour Simon

Exploring Exoplanets by Deborah Kops



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