BYU Astronomy Research Group Joins the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC)

As of January 2021 BYU will be a member of the ARC Consortium (Link to Consortium) with access to the ARC 3.5-m telescope and the 0.5-m ARCSAT telescope.  The primary use of the ARC 3.5-m telescope time is for graduate student projects.  This provides a wide array of instrumentation that is currently being used to study objects in the solar system all the way to studies of the large scale structure of the Universe.

Other BYU Astronomy Facilities

In addition to our telescope time from the ARC consortium, we operate a number of our own astronomical facilities

West Mountain Observatory (West Mountain)

This is our mountain observatory at about 6600 ft above sea level.  This consists of three telescopes: 0.9-m, 0.5-m, and a 0.32-m. It is a 40 minute drive that ends in a 5 miles drive up a dirt road. The mountain itself can be seen from campus. We don't provide any tours of this facility.

Orson Pratt Observatory

The Orson Pratt Observatory is named for an early apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It is our campus telescope facility and contains a wide variety of telescopes for student research and public outreach. We operate a 24" PlaneWave telescope in the main campus dome, plus a 16", two 12", one 8", and a 6" telescope on our observation deck.  The telescopes are all fully robotic. Beyond this we have a large sections of telescopes used on public nights.

Royden G. Derrick Planetarium (Planetarium)

This is a 119 seat, 39" dome planetarium with acoustically treated walls to allow it's use as a lecture room. Recently we upgraded to an E&S Digistar7 operating system with 4K projectors.  The planetarium is used for teaching classes, public outreach, and astronomy education research projects.

Selected Publications

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BYU Authors: J. Ward Moody, Eric G. Hintz, Michael D. Joner, Peter W. A. Roming, and Maureen L. Hintz, published in Astron. J.
A variety of interesting objects such as Wolf–Rayet stars, tight OB associations, planetary nebulae, X-ray binaries, etc., can be discovered as point or compact sources in Hα surveys. How these objects distribute through a galaxy sheds light on the galaxy star formation rate and history, mass distribution, and dynamics. The nearby galaxy M33 is an excellent place to study the distribution of Hα-bright point sources in a flocculant spiral galaxy. We have reprocessed an archived WIYN continuum-subtracted Hα image of the inner 6farcm5 × 6farcm5 of M33 and, employing both eye and machine searches, have tabulated sources with a flux greater than approximately 10−15 erg cm−2s−1. We have effectively recovered previously mapped H ii regions and have identified 152 unresolved point sources and 122 marginally resolved compact sources, of which 39 have not been previously identified in any archive. An additional 99 Hα sources were found to have sufficient archival flux values to generate a Spectral Energy Distribution. Using the SED, flux values, Hα flux value, and compactness, we classified 67 of these sources.
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BYU Authors: Joseph Moody, Parkes Whipple, Lauren Hindmann, Nicholas Van Alfen, Jonathan Barnes, Nicolas A. Ducharme, L. Joseph Rivest III, McKay D. Osborne, Bret Little, and Eric Hintz, published in Galaxies
To better understand possible blazar jet mechanisms and morphologies, brighter prototypical objects are regularly monitored for variability in optical broad-band light. If the monitoring filters are polarized, the position angles and polarization percentages can be measured and their evolution monitored over time. However, building up a statistically significant time base of polarization parameters requires the arduous task of monitoring sources for months or years to catch and follow interesting events such as flares. Fortunately, monitoring an object is easily done using remotely operated or robotic telescopes. The Remote Observatory for Variable Object Research (ROVOR) is a small-aperture telescope that has monitored blazars in broad-band Johnson filters since 2009. Calibration data using a set of four plane-polarized filters suggest that it is suitable for polarimetric monitoring as well. We have successfully collected data on CTA 102 and are encouraged at the prospects of monitoring it and other similar objects. Long-term monitoring campaigns are a scientifically and educationally-effective use of underutilized smaller-aperture telescopes. 
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BYU Authors: Michael D. Joner and Eric Hintz, published in Astron. J.

We report the discovery of a transiting exoplanet, KELT-11b, orbiting the bright (V = 8.0) subgiant HD 93396. A global analysis of the system shows that the host star is an evolved subgiant star with K, , , , and . The planet is a low-mass gas giant in a P = 4.736529 ± 0.00006 day orbit, with MP = 0.195 ± 0.018 , , g cm−3, surface gravity , and equilibrium temperature K. KELT-11 is the brightest known transiting exoplanet host in the southern hemisphere by more than a magnitude and is the sixth brightest transit host to date. The planet is one of the most inflated planets known, with an exceptionally large atmospheric scale height (2763 km), and an associated size of the expected atmospheric transmission signal of 5.6%. These attributes make the KELT-11 system a valuable target for follow-up and atmospheric characterization, and it promises to become one of the benchmark systems for the study of inflated exoplanets.

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BYU Authors: Michael D. Joner and Eric G. Hintz, published in JAAVSO
Abstract We detail the discovery of the short-period variable star presently known as TYC 2168-132-1. We have examined four nights of photometric observations of this star secured in 2015 and find it to be a δ Scuti variable with a primary period of 0.0737523 days. The star is multiperiodic with three dominant frequencies at 13.556, 7.047, and 11.757 cycles/day. Evidence from light curve morphology supports the δ Scuti classification. We estimate intrinsic values for color and luminosity that place TYC 2168-132-1 within the lower part of the instability strip. 
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BYU Authors: Michael D. Joner and Eric G. Hintz, published in Astron. J.
We define an H α photometric system that is designed as a companion to the well established H β index. The new system is built on spectrophotometric observations of field stars as well as stars in benchmark open clusters. We present data for 75 field stars, 12 stars from the Coma star cluster, 24 stars from the Hyades, 17 stars from the Pleiades, and 8 stars from NGC 752 to be used as primary standard stars in the new systems. We show that the system transformations are relatively insensitive to the shape of the filter functions. We make comparisons of the H α index to the H β index and illustrate the relationship between the two systems. In addition, we present relations that relate both hydrogen indices to equivalent width and effective temperature. We derive equations to calibrate both systems for Main Sequence stars with spectral types in the range O9 to K2 for equivalent width and A2 to K2 for effective temperature.
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BYU Authors: Eric G. Hintz, Maureen L. Hintz, and M. Jeannette Lawler, published in JAESE
As part of an effort to improve students’ knowledge of constellations and bright stars in an introductory level descriptive astronomy survey course, we measured the baseline knowledge that students bring to the class and how their score evolve over the course of the semester. This baseline is needed by the broader astronomy education research community for future comparisons about which strategies and environments are the best for learning the stars and constellations. As a comparison group, we also examined the baseline knowledge of 14-15 year old, 9th grade students from the United States. 664 university students averaged 2.04±0.08 on a constellation knowledge survey, while 46 additional students averaged higher at 8.23±0.23. The large, lower scoring group is found to have the same knowledge level as the 14-15 year old 9th grade students which scored 1.79±0.13. The constellations most often identified correctly were Orion and Ursa Major. For the star portion of the survey, which was only given to the university students, we found essentially no statistically significant prior knowledge for the 17 brightest stars surveyed. The average score for the stars was 1.05±0.05, as expected for guessing, although Polaris and Betelgeuse are labeled correctly more often than any other stars.