DUNWOODY, Ga. — Bethe Newgent works as a dental assistant during the week. Donny Evans is a math and science tutor. Both are rediscovering their passion for the stars as students studying astronomy and physics at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College.
Newgent and Evans are presenting their research on active galactic nuclei during the Perimeter Astronomy Conference, 12-4 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25, in Room NC 1100 on the Dunwoody Campus.
The annual conference is a time for students and Georgia State University faculty to present their current research on astronomical phenomena across the galaxy, said Dr. Jay Dunn, Dunwoody Campus physics professor. Dunn is faculty advisor for the Dunwoody SPACE Club, which is sponsoring the event.
Newgent and Evans are returning to their love of astronomy after pursuing different careers.
Evans toured the world as a singer and musician after high school. But he always had a fascination for astronomical events, he said.
“Once when I was 16 and driving home from work, my eyes left the road for a moment to look at the full-moon in the night sky… resulting in me rear-ending the person in front of me,” he said. “Finding answers to questions regarding the natural world in order to further our scientific understanding has always fascinated me. My interest in space started at a fairly young age; My mom and I would watch reruns of ‘Cosmos’ with Carl Sagan constantly.”
Newgent shared a love of astronomy with her father. “When I was a kid, we attempted to make a model of the Martian surface,” she said.
While telescopes are associated with astronomers, computers are aiding the students in their search for astronomical phenomena. Both students juggle their work and class schedules and their research, taking time every Friday to download data that tracks interstellar activities.
Pinpointing the presence of quasars—supermassive black holes surrounded by bright disks of gas—fascinates them both.
“I was in Dr. Dunn’s physics class, and I mentioned between classes that I knew a little bit of computer programming,” said Newgent. “He invited me to be a research assistant. At the time, I didn’t know a whole lot about quasars, but as I dove into this research, I found them to be fascinating.”
Evans is examining data from the Hubble Space Telescope, researching active galactic nuclei, (AGN) which are powerful sources of light in far off galaxies.
“We use the absorption and scattering of electromagnetic radiation by dust and gas to better understand the amounts of mass and energy ejected from AGN,” he said.
At the conference, three doctoral students from Georgia State’s astronomy program will be joining the Perimeter students, presenting their research on active galaxies and hot stars, said Dunn.
Evans, who will soon finish his associate degree, hopes to continue his research next year at Georgia State’s astronomy program; Newgent hopes to transfer to Georgia Tech to study materials engineering and one day work with a program that designs vehicles for space exploration.
Evans and Newgent also will present their research during the Georgia Regional Astronomers and the Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers conference in Athens, Ga., Friday, Oct. 27-Saturday, Oct. 28.