Marshall University student Rae Stanley will be borrowing time on one of North America’s most powerful telescopes this year to study black holes in galaxies as far away as 6.8 billion light years.
Stanley, a junior majoring in physics from Ona, West Virginia, plans to use the spectrograph of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), which is located in Safford, Arizona, known for its clear night skies. This fall, she’ll be traveling there and collecting data to determine if black holes can create new atoms.
The premise of her study is this: According to research, the nuclear process of rapid neutron capture is responsible for more than half of the heavy elements found in the universe. Right now, scientists believe that supernovae are the only things in the universe that can create these heavy elements, but Stanley is looking to test the proposal that they can be created when supermassive black holes take in too much matter and shoot it out in jets of particles, which typically occurs at about 10 percent the speed of light. She’s researching whether rapid neutron capture is occurring there as well.