Dolores Beasley

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1753)

Steve Roy

Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

(Phone: 256/544-6535)

Megan Watzke

Chandra X-ray Observatory Center, Cambridge, MA

(Phone: 617/496-7998)

David Finley

National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro, NM

(Phone: 505/835-7302)

RELEASE: 00-195

Three high school students, using data from NASA’s Chandra X-
ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation’s Very Large
Array (VLA), today won first place in the Siemens-Westinghouse
Science and Technology Competition in Washington, DC. The team
award was based on their discovery of the first evidence of a
neutron star in the nearby supernova remnant IC443.

Charles Olbert, 18, Christopher Clearfield, 18, and Nikolas
Williams, 16, all of the North Carolina School for Science and
Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham, NC, found a point-like source of X-
rays embedded in the remains of the stellar explosion, or
supernova. Based on both the X-ray and radio data, the students
determined that the central object in IC443 is most likely a young
and rapidly rotating neutron star — an object known as a pulsar.

“This is a really solid scientific finding,” said Dr. Bryan
Gaensler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge,
a pulsar expert who reviewed the paper for the team. “Everyone
involved should be really proud of this accomplishment.”

Taking advantage of Chandra’s superior angular resolution, the
students found the source embedded in a region known to be
emitting particularly high-energy X-rays. They had access to
Chandra data because their science teacher, Dr. Jonathan Keohane,
had applied for observation time while associated with NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.

“The students really went through the whole analysis process
themselves,” Keohane said. “They even lived together all summer
near the school to complete the research.”

In order to confirm the evidence from Chandra, the students turned
to Dale Frail of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in
Socorro, NM, who gave the team VLA data on IC443. The information
strengthened the team’s case that a pulsar powers the supernova
remnant by confirming the existence of the point-like source and
discovering a cloud, or nebula, of high-energy electrons around
the central object. Such nebulas are a common characteristic of

“The experience of doing new and relevant science has been one of
the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” said Olbert,
lead author on the paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal.
“I never expected to publish a scientific paper while I was still
in high school.”

The remnant of the IC443 supernova is a well-studied object.
Astronomers have searched this region (approximately 5,000 light-
years from Earth) for the neutron star, created in the explosion,
that they thought should be there, judging from the size and
dynamics of the supernova remnant.

The Siemens-Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition is
open to individuals and teams of high school students who develop
independent research projects in the physical or biological
sciences or mathematics. The NCSSM is a free statewide residential
high school for students with a strong aptitude and interest in
math and science. About 550 high school juniors and seniors reside
on the school’s campus.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the
National Science
Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated
Universities, Inc. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, AL, manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian’s
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, MA, controls science and flight

Images associated with this release are available at: