Giants of Eclipse Wrapup

Interferometry, asteroseismology, heartbeats, tomography… oh my!

The rest of the Giants of Eclipse meeting saw a much wider array of subjects than just Epsilon Aurigae. We heard about interferometry, a special technique often used by radio telescopes to get sharper, higher-resolution pictures. Daniel Huber gave a great overview of asteroseismology, or stellar pulsations, which related to my talk the next day. Andrej Prsa discussed lots of work being done by the Kepler team with eclipsing binaries. The Kepler spacecraft is one of my favorites – it spent over three years collecting extremely precise data to search for planets around other stars. (Unfortunately it recently stopped working, and prospects of getting it up and running again are slim, but there is still tons of data to pore over.) A great benefit of all the high-precision Kepler data isn’t just planet hunting – it’s also extremely useful to study stars. We heard about a special kind of binary star that shows a “heartbeat-like” pattern in its light curve, and we also learned about an innovative technique called tomography, which essentially creates a 3D map from a series of 2D slices.

Brightness versus Time for a so-called "heartbeat star." The black dots are the observations from Kepler, and each line is a different model. The brightness changes because the two stars pass very close to one another as they orbit and their shapes are briefly distorted. Figure from Beck et al. 2013.
Brightness versus Time for a so-called “heartbeat star.” The black dots are the observations from Kepler, and each line is a different model. The brightness changes because the two stars pass very close to one another as they orbit and their shapes are briefly distorted. Figure from Beck et al. 2013.

So much science! By the time I presented my research on Thursday afternoon, everyone was probably tired of listening to talk after talk after talk. But I was pleased that I didn’t go over my time, got a couple of chuckles, and was able to answer questions intelligently. Next time I give a talk at a conference, I hope I don’t have to go last, because I spent a lot of time worrying about my own presentation instead of listening intently to others’.

Overall, I was thrilled to meet so many other people who care about binary stars at least as much as I do. We shared many great meals and fun evenings. I left Monterey with new friends and a better sense of what cool research is happening with binary stars.

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