Young Nova Scotia astrophysicist wins award for her study of vibrating stars

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HALIFAX - It turns out stars do a little shimmy on the cosmic dance floor, and that's helping astronomers understand the structure of the universe.
Catherine Lovekin, who just won a national award for her work, studied star pulsation for three years at Saint Mary's University in Halifax as part of her doctoral work.
Lovekin used a computer simulation program, created by her supervisor Robert Deupree, that measured waves sent out by massive stars.
"It's the same idea as measuring the waves of earthquakes to determine stuff about the inside of the Earth," the astrophysicist said in a phone interview from France, where she now lives and works.
"If you can measure the waves, or pulsation, in distant stars, you can use those waves to probe the interior structure of stars. That's really interesting because otherwise, we can only see the surface of the star."
Stars give off waves because the gas and other materials of which they're made move around.
"The whole star vibrates and that causes light variations that we can detect," she said.
Lovekin looked at massive stars that rotate very quickly. This fast rotation flattens out the poles of the stars, which in turn changes the shape of the waves they send out.
She's the first astrophysicist to complete an in-depth study of the waves created by this shape-shifting.
This kind of work can help astronomers better understand other astronomical mysteries, such as supernovas, the cataclysmic explosions that end the life of many stars.
Her work has earned her the 2009 Plaskett Medal, which honours the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy in the past two years. The award is given by the Canadian Astronomical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The award came as "a complete surprise and definitely a huge honour," said Lovekin, 29, who was born in Toronto.

Organizations: Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canadian Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Geographic location: France, Toronto

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