A Stellar Accomplishment
2006 HC alum Brian Kloppenborg admits he still isn’t sure how he should feel about his work being published in Nature. As the primary author of a research paper recently published in the international scientific journal’s April 2010 issue, Brian, a graduate student of astrophysics at the University of Denver, has accomplished what many scientists often spend their entire careers trying to achieve.
“Clearly it is a wonderful accomplishment, especially for a graduate student,” Brian said. “I think, in the end, the publication of the paper is important for its factual content, but the road to get there will have the higher impact factor for me.”
Research for the paper, “Infrared images of the transiting disk in the epsilon Aurigae system,” began in late 2008 with observations made at Georgia State University’s Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) interferometer located on top of California’s Mount Wilson. The task of the research was to explain the cause of an 18-month-long eclipse that obstructs nearly half of the light from the visible star in the epsilon Aurigae system every 27.1 years. Explanations for the eclipse have invoked some of the most exotic objects in the universe.
“At one time epsilon Aurigae was listed as the largest star in the universe in some astronomy texts, and even a few authors thought the eclipsing body might be a black hole,” Brian said. “Our article in Nature lends very strong support to the most modern interpretation, in which the eclipsing body is a large disk of opaque material. Even though we now know what the shadow of the disk looks like, we still need to interpret its origin and fit it into an evolutionary scenario for the star system.”
As primary research author, Brian collected nearly all of the data, wrote a majority of the text and worked with an international group of astronomers and astrophysicists to complete the paper.
He was responsible for corresponding with editors, ensuring that each co-author was given due consideration and balancing everyone’s input while maintaining his own wishes for the paper. A task, he admits, that proved challenging.
Dan Glomski, program director for the Hastings College Sachtleben Observatory, worked with Brian when he was a student at HC. Brian was a regular participant in the observatory programs, and he displayed serious ingenuity, Dan said, by building the college’s radio telescope virtually from scratch and using it to measure the rotation of our Milky Way galaxy.
“To be published in Nature is indeed an impressive accomplishment, especially before getting a Ph.D.” Dan said about Brian’s accomplishment. “In particular, the images Brian obtained on the star epsilon Aurigae are stunning. They help unlock the secrets of why this star dims every 27 years -- a mystery that had baffled astronomers for over a century. Brian and I keep in touch to this day, and I can't wait to find out firsthand what other mysteries Brian helps solve over the course of his career.”
Brian says he is not sure how the publication of this paper will impact his future, but he hopes that it will be positive nonetheless.
“If I can maintain the momentum that I think this article has imparted to my career, I will go far.”
“I was awed at the quantity of astronomical history within a few hundred yards of where I slept,” Brian said about his trip to the CHARA observatory on Mt. Wilson.
“There Edwin Hubble proved that what were once considered nebulae in our own Milky Way galaxy were instead galaxies themselves. Furthermore, on that same peak, George Hale showed that sunspots are strongly magnetized and that the sun flips magnetic poles once every solar cycle.
"Knowing that such humble astronomers have made such a large impact on our history is quite inspiring and has kept me motivated."