Auburn Astrophysicists Awarded Time on the New NICER Telescope aboard the International Space Station
“I am proud that Auburn University researchers are guest observers on the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station,” explained Dennis Bodewits. “This is the first time that anyone from Auburn University has had the opportunity to use this new equipment and we will be working directly with the instrument team from NASA Goddard that designed this telescope.”
Bodewits, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, has conducted research on other X-ray telescopes such as Chandra and Swift. Obtaining time on NICER provides his research team an unparalleled chance to use a new instrument that was originally designed to study neutron stars.
“In the past, it has been hard to study comets that far above the ecliptic plane because they emit soft X-rays, which Chandra and Swift aren’t very sensitive to,” Bodewits mentioned. “The NICER telescope is both very sensitive to the X-rays we are after and can follow comets as they move across the sky.”
NICER was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2017.
“I selected two comets based on their positioning,” he added. “One comet is near the equator of the sun and the other is high solar latitude, which will allow my research team to compare different space weather they encounter.”
Emanuele Bonamente, a post-doctoral scientist in the Department of Physics, will use NICER in both May and September 2020 when the comets are brightest for observation.
“When charged particles in the solar wind fly through the gas around the comet, they lose their charge and emit X-rays when they do so,” Bonamente said. “I will be able to measure the composition of the solar wind, which we can then trace back to specific areas of the sun.”