Missouri State University

Claire Geneser

Fascination with stars leads student to study astronomy

Claire Geneser’s intrigue with stars began when she was 5 years old. 

“As a child, my parents would take me camping in the Painted Desert where I would watch the sky explode with stars and come alive,” Geneser said. “It was mysterious and pulled me in to what I couldn’t see. That is one of the reasons why I am interested in astronomy.”

Geneser has been working with Dr. Peter Plavchan on a solution to a costly problem in astronomy through the creation of the project Mu-MINERVA. She presented her discovery at the EPRV (Extreme Precision Radial Velocities) conference at Yale University in July 2015.

Making telescopes more affordable

“The purpose of the project is to minimize the cost of buying a telescope for observational astronomy,” Geneser said. “We are using it for Doppler Spectroscopy, so we are taking the light that comes through the telescope and breaking it into a spectrum of the star.”

By looking at the spectrum of a star, astronomers are able to find radial velocity shifts on the surface of the star, which indicate if there are exoplanets pulling on the surface of a star as they orbit around, according to NASA’s website.

“The biggest problem with this type of research is that it is really expensive to buy a large telescope, but in order to create a spectrum we don’t depend on angular resolution or a very pretty picture,” Geneser said. “All we need is an equivalent amount of light gathering area.”

As a solution, Geneser and Plavchan replaced a 16-inch diameter telescope lens with four, 8-inch diameter telescope lens, which according to Geneser reduces the cost of a telescope with exoplanet detecting capabilities from over $100,000 to around $8,000.

Discovering new planets

Geneser hopes that this advancement will allow more college students and amateurs who can’t afford a large telescope to discover new planets.

“At this point in time it is really difficult to discover a new planet without owning a large, expensive telescope, and without having enough time to collect consecutive data,” she said. “If we start to develop arrays at a much lower cost we are opening the field for more people to contribute valuable research.”