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Space Science

15-Year-Old Student Discovers New Pulsar 103

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the sky-isn't-the-limit dept.
For the second time in as many years, a student has made a discovery while participating in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), a joint program between the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and West Virginia University designed to get students and teachers involved in analyzing data from the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). This time it was high school sophomore Shay Bloxton, who discovered a brand new pulsar. "For Bloxton, the pulsar discovery may be only her first in a scientific career. 'Participating in the PSC has definitely encouraged me to pursue my dream of being an astrophysicist,' she said, adding that she hopes to attend West Virginia University to study astrophysics. Late last year, another West Virginia student, from South Harrison High School, Lucas Bolyard, discovered a pulsar-like object called a rotating radio transient. His discovery also came through participation in the PSC."
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15-Year-Old Student Discovers New Pulsar

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  • Slashdotter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:40PM (#30863876) Homepage Journal

    There's someone here whose sig is "I live in my mother's basement, but I'm only fifteen". I wonder if it's the same fifteen year old? At any rate, hooray for today's youth!

    • There's someone here whose sig is "I live in my mother's basement, but I'm only fifteen". I wonder if it's the same fifteen year old? At any rate, hooray for today's youth!

      From his posts [slashdot.org] I don't really think he is 15.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It seems odd that they would mention this person's age. It shouldn't matter, nor should the person's "race" or gender matter.

    • by uberjack (1311219)
      I can't believe what a sad bunch of nerds we are, knowing each others' sigs. *sigh*
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:10PM (#30864284)

      I wish I could go back and tell my 15-year-old self not to study astrophysics. After four years of undergrad, me and about 98% of my graduating class realized that our job prospects were virtually nil. I went back for another two years to get my Masters degree, and finally another eight years for my PhD. By this time, I was fat and even less suited for the real world than I was after finishing my undergrad. There weren't any research or tenure-track positions available at the time, but a friend allowed me to work as a cameraman at his pornography production business. Three weeks into the job, one of the male stars blew his load onto my face while I was filming a close-up. I quit, and have since lived in my mother's basement, unemployed. I run errands for her, and she gives me spending cash. I'm 37 and with a PhD, but I live with my mother and I'm treated like I'm still 15.

      • I know that this is likely to be meant funny, but for anyone out there with a real life similar to this:

        Have you ever considered to stop coming from the needy beggar angle? And to instead think of it in this way:

        1. Consider yourself valuable! Find your values! List all that you have to offer.
        2. Find anyone who could possibly want or need this, and has anything that you need. (And probably does not know yet, that he wants it.)
        3. Go out there, and sell yourself. From a point of “I’m offering YOU s

    • I joined Slashdot at 14. But I didn't brag about it - until now, I guess. I'm 18 at the moment, and my UID is relatively low compared to all these newcomers nowadays.

      • by Bengie (1121981)

        I remember waiting for Slashdot to load on my 28.8k USR serial modem

        • by jnana (519059)

          28.8K MODEM! Waiting to load on a 28.8K MODEM, you say! Bloody hell, you had it easy. We would have loved to have the luxury of waiting, or even having a real modem.

          When I was a kid, we had to get up at 1 o clock in the morning, run 7 miles into town and back for no reason at all, and then get down on all fours and push a big wheel around like donkeys all day in order to generate electricity to do our 'web surfing' in the evening. When I say 'web surfing', of course, I mean that our 1 bit per day telegrap

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nilbog (732352)

      Maybe not the same 15 year old, but I bet they're related - both being 15 and all.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Nobody's going to be doing any significant astronomy from their mother's basement. A real Slashdotter would rarely go outside.

    • by XPeter (1429763)

      There's no relation, though I do wish she was my girlfriend

      • There's no relation, though I do wish she was my girlfriend

        How unfortunate for you then that she's from West Virginia....

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I'm sure you do -- she's smart and cute as hell. I wish I could find one like that my age.

  • Female... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    15 year old female discovers new pulsar. This will get bad in the discussions.

  • by PSandusky (740962) <psandusky@NoSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:58PM (#30864118)

    I keep thinking that looking for pulsars could've just as easily been something that someone with a hankering for SETI@home's animus could've farmed out to a grid. What's so beautiful about this is that the PSC gets work done for astrophysics at the same time that it adds something to science education. (Too bad more schools couldn't have access to these kinds of things. It may be educational natural selection, but it's still a downer.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:04PM (#30864206)

    You know, if she got some glasses that were a little more stylish, did something with her hair, ... she's got a lot going for her!

    Now, before being accused of being a sexist pig, I'd point out that well, I am BUT there's nothing wrong in pointing out attractive women scientists to girls - such as Lisa Randall of Harvard.

    I think many girls have this opinion that science isn't a "feminine" thing - at least that's an opinion of a female classmate had back in my undergrad physics days.

    I think to encourage girls into science it should be pointed out that you can be a babe and be a scientist. Should we have to do that? Well, in an ideal World that short answer is 'no' but in a World were vapidness and looks dominate, I think it's a necessary evil.

    • by ozbird (127571)
      Dunno about being a sexist pig; shallow, perhaps. If people don't appreciate "geek chic", more fool them.
      • by Urkki (668283)

        Dunno about being a sexist pig; shallow, perhaps. If people don't appreciate "geek chic", more fool them.

        It's not about intellectual appreciation, it's about what gets the "little guy" exited... And since that's pretty much outside conscious control, it's a bit unfair to call it "foolish".

    • by melikamp (631205)

      Guys are not that attracted by science either: the ideal of manliness is found in a college gym locker room. So I think many guys have this opinion that science isn't a "masculine" thing - at least that's an opinion my male classmates had back in my undergrad psychology days. What we really need is some hot and rugged scientist studs. Is there anyone out there who can be possibly attracted by these guys [wikipedia.org]? Or this crazy dude [wikipedia.org]? I think to encourage boys into science it should be pointed out that you can be a st

      • crazy dude [wikipedia.org]

        I could've sworn the caption said "Kurt Gödel, MOFO". He's a bad-ass mathematical mother fucker, than Kurt guy, as he comes and gives your neatly thought out proof system a roundhouse kick, square in its axiomatic nuts!

        Maybe I'm misreading things.

    • I'm not a scientist, but I was at CERN shooting video in April 2008. What surprised me was that a good third of the scientists I did encounter were female, and most of them weren't bad looking either!
    • by fm6 (162816)

      She looks just fine as she is to me. But not too fine, given that intimacy with her is a felony.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      I think many girls have this opinion that science isn't a "feminine" thing

      It's absolutely true, though the hearts and kitty doodles my girlfriend puts in her physics and biology note margins say otherwise.

      But really, it's not just about being "feminine" in some kind of societal-oppressive Barbie-says-math-is-hard way. It's that a lot of people who are interested in science really wonder if they have to lose all fashion and social sense and be a 'dork' to do science.

      I once saw a PBS documentary, Nova I thin

      • I mean at least it wasn't Star Trek, but seriously...

        That's what I told the Football team captain, and then he gave me a wedgie :(

    • susan and mary

      but then a GIS unwittingly exposed me to rule 34

      (shudder)

    • You know, if she got some glasses that were a little more stylish, did something with her hair

      Maybe it's just me, but I say she's a cutie even with her current hair and glasses.

      (insert obligatory about her being a minor and my not being a minor and my not feeling that way about her)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      You say you're a sexist pig, but do you understand WHY comments like this are not okay?

      #1. She is a child. I shouldn't even have to say that.
      #2. How somebody looks has nothing to do with their intelligence or capability. It's incredible that you say there's "nothing wrong in pointing out attractive women scientists to girls" when, in fact, there is everything wrong with it. 'Attractive' is almost exclusively a measure of how much effort a woman puts into modifying her physical appearance in order
  • I recall some non-professionals successfully using google maps to find meteor craters.
    Others have found new recent water erosion features on Mars.
    Soon some of the large mapping telescopes will be releasing vast amounts of astronomical images in Google Sky.
    Theres lots of opportunity for amateurs here.
  • ...And added tints, lowered suspension, and fart can exhaust
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by fhuglegads (1334505)
      Old School Nissan reference.. Very nice.

      I don't think this girl was born when those were on the road.
      • They're still around here (in New Zealand)... Often in a configuration very similar to the above
  • How hard is that? (Score:3, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:14PM (#30864360)
    This is not a knock on the student in question, since I'm much older than that and never discovered a pulsar.

    But.

    My impression, which may be very wrong, is that space is so huge, you can point a decent telescope in any direction and discover something, albeit only to a level of detail at which it is indistinguishable from a million other somethings. Thus the quest of astrophysics is not just to discover a new thing, but something new and novel.

    (I have often wondered what the earth would look like if we could see every footprint ever planted by mankind. How many "first tracks" I have made?)

    • Re:How hard is that? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:30PM (#30864518) Journal

      You're right to some degree. Problem is that we don't have telescopes on Earth that can just point out to the sky and see all the amazing things that Hubble can. The light pollution is too high. So we are really cut back on how much of space we can actually see here.

      Now, she didn't "just point" in the sky, in fact, she had nothing to do with the pointing at all. She took the Data and Analyzed it. She worked it out to be a Pulsar.

      Pulsars are very rare. So they waited till the telescope came around to the right point again (a month later) and re-read the data, and re-analyzed it with professionals. She was correct.

      • Problem is that we don't have telescopes on Earth that can just point out to the sky and see all the amazing things that Hubble can. The light pollution is too high.

        Light pollution is easy - go somewhere else. But it's a LOT harder to get ride of the opaque atmosphere ...

  • HS is when it starts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ghostlibrary (450718) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:16PM (#30864378) Homepage Journal

    I interviewed 4 random astronomers at an AAS meeting to ask 'why did you become an astronomer', and the answer was either "saw cool space stuff as a kid and was inspired" or "got to learn a bit of astronomy in high school and loved it". So she's right at the age for deciding. Unlike most majors, I think most astronomers choose their path early. (In February the podcast will be up at "365 Days of Astronomy", btw).

    Sandy
    http://projectcalliope.com/ [projectcalliope.com] "Music from Space"

    • I found your comments interesting, and telling.

      I have a couple of nephews 'n nieces who have just finished school, but have no idea what to do with the rest of their lives. This is something I had no problem with myself (stumbled upon an apple IIe in a shopping mall demo in the early eighties as a youngster -- to this day I can remember the intoxicating electronic smell of the humming machine, the somehow magical keyboard and the crude but beautiful chess game it was running).

      I'm determined that my child

  • A good thing... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tkohler (806572) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:25PM (#30864474)
    It seems like letting high schoolers have access to facilities like this is a good thing: http://www.nrao.edu/pr/2009/pulsarstudent/ [nrao.edu]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Further proof that there is still valuable, real science within reach of amateurs who do not have multimillion dollar research grants. Congratulations Shay!

    • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:50PM (#30865188)
      No, actually, you're completely and absolutely wrong. This is going to sound trollish, but this telescope cost a fuckload of money and had absolutely nothing to do with the student. The people operating the telescope basically just give out the data to a bunch of schools. The schools then have the students punch in a few commands, the computer goes to work, and a while later the computer says "Hey, this data looks like it might not be garbage, might want to check it out". So then the professionals actually did some further analysis and found that yeah, it was a pulsar.

      I hate every freaking one of these stories that claim "Young person does science usually done by people with advanced degrees!". She punched in some commands, she didn't do science. Christ. Any other 15 year old working their ass off in school to become a physicist or engineer gets no special recognition or help or any assistance doing science or research like this. But one student who just fucking happened to be in the seat when the computer came up with the result gets credit for doing something completely unremarkable.

      She didn't point the telescope, she didn't actually gather any data, she didn't develop the algorythm used by the computer to actually analyze the signal. She read a fucking graph generated by someone else.
      Look at this article from the same source about another kid who did the same thing: http://www.nrao.edu/pr/2009/pulsarstudent/
      You can see the plots there. You look at a graph and if you see a blob you report it.

      I mean, think about this for a little bit. Why on earth do people go to college and get degrees in science if it can be done by a 15 year old with exactly zero formal training in the area?

      It probably sounds like I'm belittling these students' achievements. I'm really not. I'm simply pointing out what they actually did. It's the media that in their haste for a story trumps up this unremarkable junk into something amazing.
      • by qubezz (520511)

        Install GIMPS on an OLPC computer before it's sent? "6 year old Ethiopian girl discovers largest prime number"

        Install SETI@home on the special ed computer? "12 year down's syndrome child discovers extra-terrestrial intelligence"

        Skinhead punk thinks folding@home makes a cool screensaver? "Neo-Nazi discovers cure to sickle-cell anemia"

        Secretary is PWNED installing 'wallpapers' off the net? "Woman cracks DOD database in league with Chinese comrades"

        It is too bad Spot the dog doesn't have a computer, but

      • by ErikZ (55491) *

        If it's such a minor thing, why don't your people with advanced degrees "read the fucking graph generated by someone else."

        She's just as legit as the people who work at the observatory. I doubt any of them *built* the telescope. Maybe one or two of them wrote the software to analyze the data, or they grabbed a standard package.

        • "If it's such a minor thing, why don't your people with advanced degrees "read the fucking graph generated by someone else.""

          Because they're busy doing science. You know, designing telescopes, doing calculations, determining where the scope should be pointed based off of data that requires a lot of education to understand.

          Their time is too valuable to spend hours watching graphs looking for blobs.
      • by Urkki (668283)

        She punched in some commands, she didn't do science.

        So, pretty much what grad students do, then?

        • I may have been a bit quick on the draw there. After finding the second article it appears that she didn't even type in any commands. I didn't edit it our because it wasn't exactly clear.
  • Shes cute, geeky, AND my age.

    Mine.

  • by Setherghd (942294)
    So is the story about a new pulsar or the kid? I find the former more interesting.

    I have always been annoyed by these headlines. I guess there's quite a bit more traffic if something mundane is sensationalized with the age of the person. It seems to work best if they're a minor or elder.

    Oh well. Congratulations, kiddo!

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. -- Francis Bacon

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