The sky’s the limit – or limitless, really – for students doing research this summer in Union’s astronomy labs and observatory.
Using the Union College Observatory in the F.W. Olin building, several physics and astronomy students have been working with observatory manager Francis Wilkin on projects involving asteroids and planets around other stars, or exoplanets.
“We’re able to offer our undergraduates some exciting opportunities for real-world, or should I say real-worlds, research,” said Wilkin, a senior lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “As a result, many students have had their research published in professional papers and journals.”
For physics major Dimitris Vasileios Zora ’26, an international student from Greece, “the past four weeks were a great introduction to what research is like in the academic world, with supportive faculty and an abundance of resources available to me.”
Zora and William (Will) Grimwood ’24, a physics major from New Zealand, spent much of July researching exoplanets. Both students also collaborated with members of a research team Wilkin formed during the academic year to allow students to work on astronomy projects year-round.
The exoplanet research looks at targets selected by the NASA TESS Mission as extrasolar planet candidates or “Targets of Interest (TOI).”
The Union College Observatory was built as a laboratory for astronomy and physics courses, permitting students to participate actively in the exploration of the universe. It houses a 20-inch optical telescope equipped with a research-grade CCD (charge coupled device) camera within a rotating dome.
It also offers stargazing opportunities for the campus and local communities during its monthly open houses.