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Downtown Astronomer Finds Sandbar Between Galaxies

By David Markland
Published: Wednesday, December 01, 2010, at 12:10AM
IMG_2600 David Markland [Flickr]

Louise O.V. Edwards shows an image of a galactical sandbar she discovered in part through research done at Downtown coffee shops like Banquette.

Right in the middle of a Downtown coffee shop, the mysteries of the universe are being uncovered.

Old Bank District resident and full-time astronomer Dr. Louise O.V. Edwards says that much of her work is done from Banquette Cafe, Syrup Desserts, and L.A. Cafe, where she can compile research, analyze data, and write reports on her findings. “All I need is an internet connection,” she says.

The 32-year-old says all the data she needs comes from her turns on “Really Big Telescopes,” such as the Hubble or 8m telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. Those come up once or twice each year.

One of her recent discoveries is an unusual formation between two galaxy clusters called a “sandbar” which she says is “among the biggest gravitationally-bound objects in the universe.”

Edwards, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology since 2008, has for the last two years led a team of astronomers in analyzing the lobe-shaped anomalies that she originally spotted using thirty hours of rewarded research time at New Mexico’s Very Large Array observatory. For follow-up observations, the team used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and additional ground based observatories.

“My own analysis of the object, and reading through the scientific literature to put the results into context, all happened on the computer,” she says, adding that “a lot of it was on my rooftop.”

“I also look at the most massive galaxies of the universe,” Edward says of her specific astronomical expertise of “cD type” galaxies. “They are giant ellipticals that are only ever found at the very center of clusters. Clusters are groups of 50-500 galaxies that are gravitationally bound. I found that their own star formation activity is linked to massive reservoirs of X-ray emitting gas that permeates the cluster.”

Downtown may not seem attractive to a stargazer, but Edwards says the central location provides easy access to Griffith Observatory and Mount Wilson Observatory, or the chance to “take some binoculars to the beach on a dark night.”

“In fact, my favorite thing to look at still is the moon through binoculars.” She says the roof of her Old Bank District apartment building is an excellent vantage point. “You can see the mountains and more. It is very beautiful.”

Edwards will be teaching a cosmology course at USC in the Spring and hopes to be a professor in the next few years. Not that she doesn’t have time to kick back.

“My astronomer friends and I will go crazy at Bar 107,” she says, pointing out that one feature of the bar is a mural with a landscape of Downtown Los Angeles against a giant moon and a floating astronaut.


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