UCC Students Hunt for a Black Hole at Observatorio del Teide, Tenerife

22 October 2012

Almost all of the black holes in our Galaxy are formed when a massive star becomes a supernova, leaving a black hole remnant: because of their extremely compact nature, the gravitational force near a black hole can be so strong that not even light can escape.

As part of their astrophysics degree programme in UCC, a team of undergraduates were taken this year on the annual field trip to the Observatorio del Teide on Tenerife, which is run by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). 

Students, lead by Prof Paul Callanan (UCC Physics), used the IAC 80 telescope during 5 nights of "dark" time to study the recently discovered black hole binary system Swift J1910.2-0546. 

Their data were used to try to find the orbital period of this exotic system: such observations help us understand the Physics at work in such extreme objects. 

The students also observed a white dwarf nova, and attempted to identify some mysterious sources of very energetic radiation. 

We follow the students as they learn how to navigate their large telescope around the night sky, and see how they overcome mechanical, software and human challenges to successfully perform their scientific observations.