MMSD Planetarium Director Studies Supermassive Black Holes in NASA Research Program
MMSD Planetarium Director and longtime Memorial educator Ben Senson is furthering his involvement in a NASA research program – and bringing his star-studded experience back to the school.
Over the last two years, Senson and other participants from the NASA/IPAC Teacher Research Program (NITARP) presented three posters to astronomers at the American Astronomical Society national conference and published their research paper this last summer. The research stemmed from 2020-2022, when Senson was a teacher participant in NITARP. The team researched young stellar objects in a patch of the sky in the constellation Auriga.
Currently, Senson is a teacher mentor for a NITARP team, researching supermassive black holes that are found at the center of most galaxies (known as active galactic nuclei, or AGN).
"If these supermassive black holes are “feeding” on materials, they can consume a vast amount of mass from the galaxy that contains them, making them very very bright!” Senson said. "However, that is not an issue as they are incredibly far away. And being so far away, they should "stay put" on the map of the sky."
Yet, the research team is suspicious that after reviewing a catalog of millions of measured space objects, the team's data will suggest that perhaps as many as 2,000 of these supermassive black holes, or AGN, are in fact moving. The next phase of the team's research is to dive into the evidence to figure out why the AGN look like they are moving.
Senson is able to share this brand-new research with Memorial’s astronomy students, who are learning how to process astronomical images. Senson’s galactic experiences demonstrate first-hand to students how the material learned in class applies beyond the planetarium.