- Recently, a team of 86 scientists from 13 countries carried out extensive high-time resolution optical monitoring of a distant active galaxy, BL Lacertae (BL Lac).
- BYU research professor of physics and astronomy, Mike Joner, was one of the astronomers contributing to the project.
Dr. Joner and BYU undergraduate student Gilvan Apolonio secured more than 200 observations of the galaxy using the 0.9-meter reflecting telescope at the BYU West Mountain Observatory. Their measurements were combined with observations made by other scientists worldwide in a collaboration called the Whole Earth Blazar Telescope (WEBT).
The WEBT network allows it to monitor objects around the clock from various locations during times of high variability.
Astronomers discovered surprisingly rapid oscillations of brightness in the central jet of the galaxy, BL Lac, using the WEBT observations made in the summer of 2020. The scientists attribute these cycles of brightness vary to twists in the jet’s magnetic field.
BYU’s West Mountain Observatory was one of 37 ground-based telescopes worldwide monitoring the optical variations of BL Lac, an active galaxy classified as a blazar roughly 1 billion light years away.
Joner and Apolonio alternated working different groups of nights at the observatory during the spring and summer of 2020, an extra burdensome task during the pandemic peak. This atypical work schedule was necessary since observations were required every clear night, and no other trained student observers remained in the Provo area.
Analyzing the high-cadence optical observations was important to understand the high-energy observations from the space-based Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope.
Joner says that it is noteworthy that in this age of giant telescopes and space-based research, it is still necessary to rely on modest-sized and well-equipped facilities available at BYU to investigate the unknown reaches of the universe.
Doctoral student of Boston University, Melissa Hallum, a BYU graduate and a former student of Dr. Joner, was also a co-author of the paper.
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