Science update

Hello and happy new year to all!

Winter means that the star is no longer visible on Earth, but we have still been pretty busy doing other valuable work. We have updates about observations with the SWIFT space telescope. We also visited LCO to discuss our science. Tabby delivered a public talk to the Santa Barbara community and a more technical science talk to the LCO staff and nearby University of California Santa Barbara astronomers.

Update on observations

Starting in December, the star became less and less available to observe from the ground. This is due to the fact that as the Earth orbits the Sun, different parts of the sky are visible at night at different times of the year. Despite this challenge, it was sufficiently monitored during this time, and its light output remains stable. Over the next two months it will be completely out of reach from the ground. As we mentioned in a previous update, we will use the Swift satellite to monitor it. The current request with Swift secures observations through the end of January, which is several weeks before the star will become visible again.

We are happy to announce that our request to monitor the star with Swift through the end of February has been accepted. These observations will be scheduled at a three day cadence, so that we are confident to catch a dip if one appears. Michael Siegel, PSU Senior Research Associate and Swift UVOT Instrument Lead, has "hot-wired" the Swift observations for us so that they are immediately processed and analyzed. If the star starts acting up, we will file an immediate request to follow up the star at a higher cadence using Swift, which is uniquely designed for rapid response to alerts such as this. We will also request for follow-up using other space-based observatories, but these requests (if accepted) have response times of several days, and the WTF dipping event might have ended by the time it was processed.

We are anxious for the months to come. The only prediction we have (which is a very loose one) puts the next occurrence as soon as February and as late as July 2017. Whether or not an event happens during this time will allow for stringent constraints on the presence of material orbiting the star with a ~2 year period. Then the details on when a dip occurs, how many dips there are, how long the dips last, how deep the dips are, the dip depth as a function of color, and a boat load of other features will be analyzed. Im getting ahead of myself here, so for now, lets just hope for a dip!

Las Cumbres Visit

As was shared in an email back in December, Tabby and Tyler visited the Las Cumbres headquarters in Santa Barbara. This gave us an opportunity to speak with the scientists and engineers about our science and experiences observing with their 40 cm network. Tabby also delivered a public lecture as part of the LCO astronomy talk series. This ended up being their most attended talk with nearly 150 attendees.

Our journey to LCO was a bit on the mad side. We experienced flight delays and being rerouted through Los Angeles and its dreaded airport. However, it's hard to remain upset visiting the pleasantly warm California in the winter. Upon entering the LCO offices, after having drove past it twice, we were greeted by these fine creatures:

LCO has some pretty cool dogs who float around the building like they own the place. But that's not so important, you guys are here for the science!

Our first day visiting was dedicated to extensive conversations with one of the engineers about our observing program. We learned how to better perform our photometric analysis to produce more confident results. We were also able to share with the LCO team the various experiences we have had with their network. They were shocked to hear how the focusing of the telescope produced inconsistent results. This sounds bad, but in this extremely complicated automated network some slight calibration issues are expected. This day culminated in Tabby's public talk. She regaled the audience with all of the updates you guys have been receiving from these newsletters.

As is typical with these sorts of academic visits, there is often a whole day dedicated to one-on-one meetings with the scientists. We were fortunate to hear about the amazing work done in supernovae, engineering, and asteroids to name a few. Tabby got to assist LCO in lifting the lid off of one of their new spectrographs! The real work was done by a number of pulleys and a drill, but Tabby provided critical assistance with the alignment of things.

So that was our visit to LCO. We shared a bit of our work and we learned about theirs. Science flourishes in an open environment. There is naturally a bit of competition in the academic environment: a rush to publish and fierce fighting for funding. This, however, is just one aspect of what we do. We want to see our knowledge furthered and meetings like this allow everyone to sharpen their brains.

One again thanks for your interest and support!


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