ASP2021: A Virtual Conference
3:00 PM - 3:50 PM: Concurrent Session 12B: 3:00 pm PST (6:00 pm EST)
Investigating Stellar Clusters with Gaia Data
Conference Strand: Teaching Introductory Astronomy – What are We Doing Now?
Richard Piccioni, College of Marin
Abstract of Session/Presentation: The immense catalog of data on some 1.8 billion stars currently being created by the Gaia space telescope mission is already playing a critical role in many areas of astronomy and astrophysics. It also a vast playground for students of a wide range of abilities to explore. In this session, I will lead participants through a number of hands-on activities with the goal of generating beautiful and meaningful graphs of stellar positions, proper motions and color-magnitude relationships. The approach will be multi-tiered, so session participants will leave knowing how to access the Gaia database and generate graphs using three different approaches, each suited to a different level of student preparation and motivation. The first entails accessing the database via the Gaia archive website, followed by data download and analysis using Google Sheets. It's a great way to introduce serious use of spreadsheets having tens of thousands of rows. The second approach is to edit an existing Google Colaboratory notebook, also entirely in a browser. This approach provides an opportunity for students to learn a little Python programming. Only the third approach requires software installation. It provides a nice introduction to navigating the friendlier side of an amazingly powerful program (TOPCAT) used by professional astronomers. Session participants will choose a cluster or two to practice on and emerge with some lovely color-magnitude diagrams. We will also talk about ways especially-motivated students can use each of these approaches to explore the Gaia database further on their own.