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A Stellar Story: Gosnell ’08 Returns to Teach Astronomy Class

Natalie Gosnell ’08 is accustomed to working with stars. And Gosnell, the W.J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, will be back among them when she returns to Colorado College during Block 8 to teach Physics 133: Astronomy.

After graduating cum laude with a degree in physics, Gosnell went on to earn her M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research, recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, expands the knowledge of how stars evolve.

Gosnell and her team used the Hubble Space Telescope to survey the open star cluster NGC 188 to better understand why some stars aren’t evolving as predicted. These stars are called “blue stragglers,” stars that look hotter and bluer than they should for their advanced age, almost as if they had become reinvigorated to look much younger than they really are. “It’s similar to being a star detective,” she says. “I use observations to try to piece together the histories of these stars so we know how they formed, and how they will evolve in the future. We’re putting together a stellar story.

“Open clusters really are the best laboratory for the study of stellar evolution,” Gosnell says. “They have a simple stellar population because the stars in a cluster form at the same time and from the same materials.” She notes that 25 percent of evolved stars in open clusters appear different than one would expect. Her research sheds light on the physical processes responsible for the differences.

“The creative problem-solving I learned while at CC has been extremely helpful in my scientific research. You have to ask the right questions in order to find interesting answers, which is a skill I started developing under the Block Plan. I can’t imagine where I would be today without my time at CC,” she says. “I’m looking forward to being back on campus again and working with the excellent caliber of students at CC.”