Berkshire School senior making mark with independent study in astronomy
SHEFFIELD -- Sam Cabot has his twinkling blue eyes constantly trained on the stars.
The 17-year-old Berkshire School senior from North Adams has been fascinated by the world above us since his grandfather gave him a small telescope when Cabot was 10.
"The first thing I ever looked at was the moon, and it was a little fuzzy," he said.
Still, the image kept with him and so has his quest for astronomical knowledge. And with the help of his family members, who helped him find people and resources to teach him about the stars and planets, he has deepened his passion for the subject.
Though he also enjoys skiing, sailing and chess, much of his free time is spent working on projects to better analyze the heavens through Berkshire School's independent study program and Advanced Math/Science Research program.
Already, he has left his mark, and his work at Berkshire School will help others broaden their understanding and appreciation of the science of astronomy. He is lead author on a paper that was published in a long-established research journal in the field, and he also has helped enhance the equipment at the school's observatory, where he now works to train other students who share his fascination.
During a recent interview in Berkshire School's Dixon Observatory, Cabot was able to talk about his work with astronomy in down-to-earth terms.
"One of the things my mentor expresses is how I have to be able to explain what I'm working on. I have to be able to explain it to my grandmother," Cabot said. His grandmother, who was standing nearby, laughed and nodded.
His mentor is Professor Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Wang and Yangsen Yao, a research scientist at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, are co-authors of a study, led by Cabot, that sought to identify and solve a problem in viewing images in space using X-ray data.
The study of this process and imaging is called spectroscopy, which uses light and radio waves for measurement of objects in a galaxy. The student and researchers were specifically investigating absorption spectroscopy and the anomaly of a missing absorption line typically found in data readings.
In February, Cabot was notified by the London offices of the "Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society" that the paper, which was submitted earlier this year, had been accepted for publication.
On campus, Cabot works with his faculty advisor, Dan Spear, to develop programs and mind equipment for the on-campus facility. The observatory is named after longtime science faculty member, Tom Dixon. Over the past year, Cabot worked with Dixon and Spear to generate a list of equipment and software needed to update the observatory, and he was able to put out a request for proposals for the upgrades.
This academic year, students now have access to a new 14-inch Meade LX2000gps Mount/Telescope, designed for long time periods of night observation; a camera for astrophotography, virtual sky software and an image intensifier that uses night-vision technology for optimal observation of the night sky. Cabot is often on hand to teach his peers how to use the equipment and to identify what they see. This spring he'll also make a presentation at Berkshire Country Day School.
"Sam has been a big part of getting the observatory back up and running and getting people interested in astronomy again," said Lucia Mulder, Berkshire School's director of communications. She said the observatory will eventually be opened to the public.
Though Cabot looks forward to going to college and pursuing more projects in astrophysics, and possibly business, he'll always remember the spark he felt when he first looked at the moon.
"There are so many things I have to learn along the way, but sometimes I step back and look at the big picture," he said. "It's always just really fascinating when you see things a million miles away."
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• Sam Cabot's research paper, titled "XMM-Newton/Reflection Grating Spectrometer (RGS) Detection of the Missing Interstellar OVII Ka Absorption Line in the Spectrum of Cyg X-2," is at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1302.0076v1.pdf
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