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Natalie Gosnell Publishes Paper, Receives NASA Grant

A paper co-authored by Colorado College Assistant Professor of Physics Natalie Gosnell ’08 was highlighted recently in AAS Nova, which features recent papers from the American Astronomical Society journals, which comprise the premier journals in astrophysics. Additionally, Gosnell, who graduated cum laude from CC with a degree in physics, recently was awarded a $10,900 grant from NASA.

The article, “Can Blue Stragglers Be Used to Tell Time?”, notes that as stars age, they gradually lose angular momentum and spin more slowly. The process occurs so predictably for normal, solar-type stars that they can be treated as cosmic clocks using a technique called “gyrochronology.” In the article, Gosnell and her co-authors examine whether the same strategy can be applied to an unusual type of main-sequence star called blue stragglers, affectionately referred to as “oddball objects (that) have managed to loiter long past their time by gaining mass — either by siphoning it from a binary companion star or by consuming another star altogether through a collision.”

The $10,900 grant Gosnell received will continue to support her work on a two-year project called “Clusters with K2: Systematics from Membership and Binarity,” and brings federal support to date for her project to $47,000.

The NASA grant is in conjunction with telescope time awarded on the WIYN 3.5m telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Gosnell’s team gathers spectra of hundreds of stars in two different open clusters with the goal of determining which stars are members of the cluster, rather than sitting in front of or behind the cluster, and which stars are in binary systems.

Says Gosnell, “We think that the number of binary stars in a cluster will impact the formation of exoplanets. So, before we compare the exoplanets found in different clusters we first need to know if the clusters have different binary populations.”

Gosnell received her Ph.D. in astronomy with a minor in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014, after receiving an M.S. in astronomy in 2010. Previously she was the W. J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and joined the CC faculty in 2017.