SFU Undergrad Researcher: Sarah Savić Kallesøe

Introducing Sarah Savić Kallesøe of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Sarah Savić Kallesøe
Major: Health Sciences (B.Sc.)
Year: Fourth
Supervisor: Dr. Howard Trottier of the Department of Physics, SFU

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Q: What is your research about?
A: Besides public outreach, I also help with the data collection for the research projects led by Dr Howard Trottier. We are currently measuring the distance to Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest spiral galaxy neighbour. The purpose of this project isn’t so much to produce new findings, as the distance to Andromeda has been established (about 2.5 million light years away, if you were wondering). Rather, we are exploring the limits of our equipment. The observatory was opened only two years ago and a lot of our equipment is younger than that. We have two auxiliary spectroscopy units, a planetary imaging camera, a deep sky imaging camera, a handful of narrow band filters, a lunar filter on the way, and a solar telescope on the way as well. With each new project, we discover that we can measure something we initially thought we were unable to detect. We are in the process of planning a research project to produce new data after the Andromeda project. More exciting news to come! In the meantime, make sure you drop by the observatory during our open house hours and ask your questions about space! Follow us on Twitter at @sfutrottobs and visit our Facebook page to keep up to date about our bi-weekly Friday night events.

Q: What are your plans for the summer?
A: This summer, I will be studying observational astrophysics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark! This is a really exciting opportunity because only 10 students in the world every year are admitted into this course. For the practical portion of the course, we will be collecting data at the internationally renown Nordic Telescope in La Palma, Spain. During my three months in Denmark, I will also be helping with the construction of the new spectrograph for the Nordic Telescope.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Since the observatory is meant for public outreach and research, most of my time at the observatory is dedicated to holding free public events. When the skies are clear, our Friday night events can attract over 300 people! The observatory is open 2 to 3 times a week and during that time I am giving tours, showing the public the space photographs taken at the observatory, and answering questions about our universe.
When the skies are clear and there isn’t a public event planned, we will conduct data collection for our research projects. Usually we start data collection at 11pm and finish at 5am in the summer (or 8pm to 6am in the winter), depending on how long the skies stay clear. There have been a few cases when I have done a full day of classes, stayed on campus until it got dark, and then stayed up all night doing data collection at the observatory, and then gone back to classes! While the collection process may be long and tiresome, you can’t help but feel excited when you see the first image of a galaxy in deep space on your computer screen.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
A: When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, and I’m willing to admit that I still am a little bit afraid of the dark. Of course, that fear makes it pretty inconvenient to be an astronomer who happens to do most of their data collection at night. The sound of the dome rotating can startle you if you don’t expect it. But now that I’ve spent so many nights at the observatory, I’m accustomed to it.

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: We have a panic button in the Control Room of the observatory, which is where we spend most of the time monitoring the data as we collect it. For the longest time, the panic button didn’t have a cover and if you leaned on it, the alarm would sound. I have accidentally leaned on the panic button twice, and each time I was surprised and the other staff members got a good laugh out of it. After the second incident, we finally got a cover for the panic button.

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