Competition is heated among astronomers who wish to book time on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, but Goucher Chair of Physics and Astronomy Ben Sugerman is quickly becoming a regular with the orbital research tool. In addition to working with students on Hubble data in 2014, Sugerman and a colleague from Hofstra University in New York recently secured “director’s discretionary time” to study an exploding star in a nearby galaxy.
In NASA lingo, director’s discretionary time refers to the 10 percent of Hubble time reserved for particularly time-sensitive observations that come up throughout the year. There are more than 1,000 applications each year from scientists all over the world, of which the agency accepts around 200.
The event Sugerman will be studying, Supernova 2016adj, is one of the closest supernovae since the invention of the telescope. It was discovered February 8, and Sugerman and Stephen Lawrence at Hofstra worked evenings and weekends to put together a proposal for the Space Telescope Science Institute. Two weeks later, the institute notified them that they would get four orbits of the telescope to image the supernova between March and June, along with a grant to cover the costs of analyzing the data.
The Hubble, launched in 1990, was the first of NASA’s four Great Observatory satellites. The last to be launched was the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2003, to which Sugerman and Lawrence have also received access.
Several Goucher students under Sugerman’s direction recently presented their space telescope- based findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Florida, and their work was featured on the astronomy website space.com.