Profile: Angelle Tanner
Since Angelle Tanner was a young girl watching a PBS broadcast of Cosmos, the mysteries of the universe have called her into a career as an astronomer.
At MSU, the assistant professor in physics and astronomy focuses heavily on her research interests, searching for extra-solar planets and learning about their solar systems. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate level astronomy courses. Tanner and her colleague Donna Pierce are the only two professional research astronomers in Mississippi.
Astronomy is an appealing topic to many, including the average star-gazer who may enjoy identifying constellations, spotting planets and observing eclipses and other rare events. Tanner holds public viewings at MSU's own telescope at Howell Observatory each semester.
But Tanner's research goes light years beyond simple star-gazing. "It's a numbers game. We observe thousands of stars with telescopes all over the world in order to get the numbers we need to detect planets," she said. Planet finding also involves relentless computer coding and data analysis. Tanner explained that the connection between physics and astronomy is that both fields apply the same math.
"The wonderful thing about physics is that it applies to the earth the same way it does to the entire universe," she said. Tanner said scientists are studying the gravitational "wiggles" of 3,000 or so stars that lie within 100 light years. She explained that astronomers are seeing a wide variety of planetary systems, each one unique.
"Most of what we study is within that distance from Earth, but some telescopes can detect planets as far out as 1,000 light years away," she said.
"We're also looking for planets around young stars to study the evolution of planetary systems and better understand how solar systems are formed," Tanner added.
Tanner's work has earned her the position of Kepler Participating Scientist, a role in which she is engaged in a NASA project that allows her and other teammates exclusive access to data. Her team is trying to determine distances of stars that the Kepler space-based telescope observes.
In February, Tanner will travel with two students to Chile to use a telescope set on a mountain top at an altitude of 7,000 feet. She also engages in real-time remote observing via the Internet to collect data.
"I'm basically finding the planets that my descendants will eventually travel to," she said "It's not easy, but it's not impossible. Sometimes it's amazing."Writer: Allison Matthews | Photo: Beth Wynn
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