Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

March 31, 2004

Astronomer to Explore NASA Nearby Stars Project during April 12 Whitworth Lecture

America's space program has been making headline news in recent weeks with NASA's Mars exploration rover mission and the unveiling of the X-43A research vehicle, a revolutionary jet engine that flew record-breaking speeds in a high-altitude test over the Pacific.

Shapley Distinguished Lecturer Richard Gray, Ph.D., will discuss another innovative NASA endeavor in an April 12 lecture at Whitworth. The lecture, "Getting to know the Neighbors: The NASA Nearby Stars Project," will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Eric Johnston Science Center auditorium at Whitworth College and is free and open to the public. For more information, please call (509) 777-4508.

NASA initiated the Nearby Stars Project in 1998 to explore stars within 20 parsecs (units of astronomical length) of the sun. The project's goal is to develop a comprehensive observational and theoretical understanding of the nearest stars. Information is being gathered about each star's fundamental characteristics, including astrometry, luminosity, temperature, optical/infrared spectral energy, age and activity level, according to an article in the American Astronomical Society Journal (1998).

"The NASA Nearby Stars Project seeks to provide classification information on nearby stars to identify stars that may have terrestrial planets," says Richard Stevens, associate professor and department chair of physics at Whitworth. "Professor Gray's lecture is part of the Whitworth College observatory initiative, which seeks to provide our students and the public with increasing opportunities to study astronomy and includes the recent construction of a fully-automated observatory accessible from the Internet."

Gray is the son of Whitworth professors emeriti Alfred and Nicolin Gray, who taught in the journalism and biology departments respectively. Richard Gray is professor of physics and astronomy at Appalachian State University, in North Carolina. He holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Washington State University, and a master's of science degree and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Toronto.

In addition to teaching astronomy classes at Appalachian State University, Gray conducts research and publishes articles related to the field of stellar spectroscopy; his interests include the discovery and classification of chemically peculiar stars.

Gray has written a spectral synthesis program, SPECTRUM, which computes the emergent spectrum given a stellar atmosphere model, and uses the synthetic spectra to determine the basic parameters of stars using the spectra he has obtained with the Gray/Miller spectrograph, one of two astronomical spectrographs he and a partner co-designed and built for the Dark Sky Observatory 32" telescope.

Gray's Whitworth visit is sponsored by The Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureships Program of the American Astronomical Society. The program coordinates two-day campus visits by professional astronomers, who bring the excitement of the modern astronomers' view of the cosmos to colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,200 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Richard Stevens, associate professor of physics and department chair, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4508 or rstevens@whitworth.edu.

Julie Riddle, public information specialist, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3279 or jriddle@whitworth.edu.

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