The Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Laboratory focuses on cutting-edge astronomical observations and theoretical modeling related to the evolution of solar systems. Lab Director, Dr. Rachel L. Smith, observes the gas around forming stars (protostars) prior to the stage when planets can form. Thus far, Dr. Smith has analyzed absorption lines of carbon monoxide (CO) in several protostellar disks and surrounding gas clouds using very high resolution instruments on large ground-based telescopes, such as the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. These spectra are analyzed to help foster a greater understanding of the chemistry involved in planet and solar system formation. These data are also compared to meteorites (the earliest solid remnants from the formation of our Solar System ~ 4.6 billion years ago) and to spectral data from the Sun, which together can help create a more complete picture of how solar systems form and evolve.
The Astronomy Lab at the Nature Research Center will be mission control for data processing, and includes evolving computer visualization sequences which relate to the ongoing research being conducted by astronomers and students in the lab, as well as news-worthy astronomical events. The latest new instrument is a Nikon polarizing light microscope, which is being used to investigation thin sections of meteorites.
Dr. Smith plans to continue cutting-edge astronomical observations while growing her research group to include studies by students and interns in the fascinating field of astronomy, astrochemistry and astrobiology, while engaging visitors in amazing discoveries related to our Solar System... and beyond!
Astronomy Blog 
Director: Dr. Rachel Smith 
Assistant Director: Dr. Patrick Treuthardt