I began my undergraduate research this summer by studying the galactic dynamics of the Milky Way Galaxy. Galactic dynamics is the study of the orbits of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy which can tell us about the history and kinematical features of a galaxy. I utilized data from the Gaia Space Telescope, which measures the positions, velocities, and distances of over one billion stars in the Milky Way. I specifically investigated the rotation curves and mass distributions of the Milky Way based on stellar orbits in the solar neighborhood (nearby stars). After a few weeks of preliminary work and findings I began a new project that uncovered an untapped passion. Under the supervision of Professor Robyn Sanderson, I then began exploring close encounters of stars with possible Oort clouds and exoplanets with nearby stars using data from the Gaia and Kepler Space Telescopes. This research is very important because if two stars (large gravitational presences) come too close to each other they can cause disturbances and perturbations in both systems.
While working on this project I was able to learn many fundamental skills needed to succeed as a researcher in a professional environment. I became proficient in in the Python programming language and the Jupyter notebook interface while also learning to read and write papers in the LaTeX text editing language. Furthermore, I also learned how to access the Gaia archive while also learning how to make and interpret different plots and figures. Upon multiple occasions, I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Computational Center for Astrophysics (CCA) located in the Flatiron Institute, in New York City, New York with Professor Sanderson as she works there in a joint partnership with Penn. I presented my research in the Galactic Dynamics and Galaxy Formation meetings at CCA where I received constructive criticism and professional advice. I met and developed connections with professors in the field across all different disciplines.
Participating in this research has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a research scientist and the unlimited opportunities that are available across the globe. Working alongside a world class dark matter research specialist and her astounding graduate and undergraduate students has unlocked and expanded my imagination and interests. I want to thank PURM, Professor Robyn Sanderson, Dr. Vernon-Grey, and the Penn Pathways Team for making this summer opportunity awesome and informative. I am pleased to share that I will be continuing my research into the semester with Professor Sanderson.