HST SM4: Vying For Hubble Time

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HST SM4: Vying For Hubble Time
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MARCH 2008

ORSOLA DEMARCO, AMERICAN HISTORY OF NATURAL HISTORY: My name is Orsola DeMarco and I am a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

My research the physics and astrophysics of stars, their evolution, their binary nature and their nebulae.

Planetary nebulae, the particular nebulae I work with are some of the most beautiful objects in the sky.

Nobody really has been able so far to figure out why we have some that are perfectly spherical and some that are like all over the place.

That alone is a good reason why I love to study them.

Planetary nebulae are thought to be ejected by single stars at the end of their lives.

I have a strong feeling and I’m not the only one that this is not true. That planetary nebulae are actually ejected by a system of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound and they are borne together and they remain together over their lives.

This would make them very different objects from what they are today. It would rewrite Astronomy 101.

Stars, like the stars I study, the hot stars, shine primarily in the ultraviolet. So if you want to observe them, to study them, to understand them, you really need an ultraviolet instrument, in particular an ultraviolet spectragraph.

When STIS, one of the current instruments on the HST broke, we lost UV capabilitiy, ultraviolet capabilities. So when STIS went down, that was that. You know. And now, not only will STIS will hopefully be fixed, but COS, another ultraviolet spectraph, even more sensitive and much better, is going to be installed.

I’m hoping that the TAC, the Time Allocation Committee sees that if this project is done, it will be a significant step towards understanding whether planetary nebulae derive from binaries or from single stars.

DEBRA WALLACE, PAST HUBBLE ASTRONOMER: It’s very difficult to write a good proposal. I think that it’s a combination of scientific expertise and marketing and putting in language that somebody who isn’t an authority in your field is going to understand and that they’re going to appreciate the importance of the science that you’re trying to do.

ORSOLA DEMARCO, AMERICAN HISTORY OF NATURAL HISTORY: I’m extremely nervous about the proposal and about the evaluation process. I know the dates when the committee is going to be gathering.

It’s nerve-wracking.

It’s a big deal. You know our career rests on this.


MICHAEL STRAUSS, CHAIR OF TAC PANEL: My name is Michael Strauss and I am the chair of one of the panels reviewing and judging the Hubble Space Telescope proposals.

The Time Allocation Committee is made up of astronomers from both the US community and from abroad as well, all working to charge these proposals.

There are 958 proposals for telescope time, that’s about 6 times the amount the time we’ll be able to allocate, given the amount of time there is.

Our job is to choose the best science projects and the new scientific opportunities with the COS and the WFC3, the two new instruments that are being put on to Hubble.

There’s a huge excitement in the astronomical community to do that and it’s our job to choose the best proposals along those lines to to take advantage of those new opportunities.


ORSOLA DEMARCO, AMERICAN HISTORY OF NATURAL HISTORY: I am annoyed because, you know, you work a lot on these proposals and you don’t get it, it feels certainly that the time was wasted.

You propose, you submit, and you’re happy. Then you let one month go through and you read it before you have the answer and you actually realize that it’s not perfect. And if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t have a chance. With every proposal, even those that don’t get time, you improve. And it means that this proposal the next round has a much much better chance than if I said, “No, I won’t propose this time.”

It delays one direction of my studies and that will mean I’ll have more time to concentrate on other studies, and then next year, I’ll try again.

You’re not going to stop because a proposal doesn’t go through. You’re going to get at it next year and do it better.

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