Childhood stargazing sparks a lifelong interest in astronomy for undergraduate researcher
As a child, whenever Jacob Hyden was away from the lights of his hometown of Phoenix, he would spend hours looking at the night sky.
“I was always inquisitive about space and the stars,” he said. “I was always looking up.”
So when he came to NAU, he naturally gravitated toward the astronomy program. Double-majoring in astronomy and physics, Hyden began doing research his junior year with assistant professor Cristina Thomas, analyzing the surfaces of Main Belt asteroids to better understand and characterize their composition and determine possible meteorite analogs.
“Essentially, we observe the surfaces of these asteroids with reflected light rays in near-infrared wavelengths as well as visible wavelengths,” Hyden said. “By analyzing this data, we can determine the composition and absorption features of whatever surface we’re looking at.”
His research, including extensive experience in computer coding with the Python programming language, is a step on the path to his future.
“The research has definitely helped me prepare for where I want to go,” he said. His aspirations include going to grad school to study astrophysics or cosmology.
“Research has helped me figure out time management and workload as well as how to handle problem after problem with coding. If I don’t understand something, I just try and figure it out, keep going, keep re-doing things, double-checking, triple-checking.”
His mentor, a planetary scientist and former NASA postdoctoral program fellow, has also had a strong impact.
“Dr. Thomas has inspired me a lot,” Hyden said. “She pushes me to do better. She also is helping me get my foot in the door to the community of astronomy and physics so I can further my education and further my opportunities.”
Major: Astronomy, physics
Mentor: Cristina Thomas