Les Hamlet
(Image Courtesy of Les Hamlet)

Location

Springfield, Missouri

What do you study?

I look for brown dwarfs and other distant objects in data from NASA’s WISE mission and other telescopes. For two or three months, I did the normal “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” project on “Zooniverse” before I decided to start trying to search a different way. I make spreadsheets with known brown dwarfs and information about them, like how bright they are at different wavelengths. Then, I take those numbers and try to find matches in the big astronomical databases, using a script I wrote, to look for targets that have similar properties. When I find a possible brown dwarf, I report it on “Backyard Worlds.” It’s a time-consuming project, but when you find one, it’s pretty cool.

Why do you do citizen science?

I’ve always just been in interested in astronomy in general. It’s more of a hobby for me. The “Backyard Worlds” really interests me. I just like learning stuff. Finding the objects is cool, but I like sitting down and thinking about new ways to find objects. The first time I tried doing it, I got one object back from my query -- and it ended up being a brown dwarf candidate. I was like, “Wow, I want to keep doing this!”

I find brown dwarfs fascinating because they are a very mysterious type of object. They occupy the gray area between stars and planets. They also don't shine in visible light (only infrared), so until fairly recently we had no way to see them. Since they are so hard to see, there are likely many nearby that are completely unknown, waiting to be discovered. And every one found adds greatly to the science of these objects. Understanding them is still very much a work in progress. The study of brown dwarfs is cutting edge science.

What's your day job?

I’m a lab technician for an engineering firm. I basically run lab experiments on soil, rock and concrete all day long. Before that, I was a cook for six years in a restaurant that served barbecue and bar food. I’ve also managed a coffee shop.

“Backyard Worlds” gave me in experience in a lot of areas I knew little about, like spreadsheets, data analysis and Python scripting. It was kind of like a jumpstart. The skills I got from “Backyard Worlds” help me in my job right now, including the general kind of scientific thinking and math skills.

Favorite contribution you've made?

I’ve got one brown dwarf that has been confirmed. That would be my favorite contribution at the moment, although I have submitted quite a few promising candidates that astronomers are going to be hopefully observing at some point. And just being part of the community of other super users where we interact and give each other advice. I like helping people who are just starting out. There is a lot to learn.

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