A Villanova University professor whose work with NASA’s Kepler mission has provided revolutionary new data on binary stars has been awarded a two-year, $449,000 grant from NASA to support his research.
Andrej Prsa, PhD, associate professor, Astrophysics and Planetary Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a world-renowned leader in the field of stellar astrophysics. The grant will support his project, “Sub-1% accuracy in fundamental stellar parameters of low-mass stars in triply eclipsing systems.”
Binary stars are systems of gravitationally “attached” stars and provide the only way to make precise determination of fundamental stellar properties such as mass, luminosity and radius. The latter is critical to many branches of astrophysics, from studying the life cycles of stars to determining distances throughout the universe.
“Binary stars are one of the most important objects in our universe because they allow us to determine masses of their components, a measurement that is otherwise near-impossible,” Dr. Prsa says.
The project will focus on triply eclipsing triple stars, of which 21 are known to exist. All were discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. The research will be conducted with the help of Villanova undergraduate students, who will work with Dr. Prsa and other collaborators on the project to analyze, model and understand the nature of these triple systems. Under the mentorship of an experienced team, the undergraduates will be given the opportunity to frame their own hypotheses to describe individual triple systems, ask their own research questions that stem from the analysis of the data, and present their work at the upcoming American Astronomical Society Symposia.
“We will model the photometric and dynamical data of these objects and derive the masses and radii of all components to better than 0.2-0.3%.,” Dr. Prsa explains. “This is made possible by the fact that alignment of not one, but two orbits comes with extremely stringent constraints, increasing the precision of the fundamental parameters that we can determine by a whopping order of magnitude.
He adds, “Once done, and with the exception of our own sun, these will be the most accurate measurements of masses and radii in our universe.”
“This grant reflects the high esteem in which NASA holds Dr. Prsa’s research and longtime involvement with the Kepler mission,” said Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, dean, Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It also presents wonderful research opportunities for his students.”
In 2016 Dr. Prsa was awarded two grants totaling $470,000 from the National Science Foundation. He has published more than 150 articles on his research in peer-reviewed publications and has shared his findings at conferences around the world.
About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.