Star light, star bright: Adina Feinstein hosts Real Scientists
Real Scientists is staying in space this week with Adina Feinstein (@afeinstein20), a PhD candidate and NSF fellow in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. She studies the evolution of young stars and how their behaviour affects nearby planets, and spoke to us about her life and work so far:
Welcome to Real Scientists! How did you get started in science?
I remember being interested in everything related to nature when I was younger: from looking at weird beetles in my backyard to cracking open geodes with my family. I think my career choices, starting in elementary school, went from zoologist to teacher to animal behavioralist to mechanical engineer to entomologist and finally landing on astronomer (and never astronaut) when I was in high school. I feel really lucky that science has always been my passion and that I’m able to pursue this career path.
How did these interests lead you to astronomy?
I knew that I always wanted to pursue science and I really loved math in high school. That’s when I realized astronomy is the perfect balance of both nature and math and why I settled on this for my graduate studies and future career.
What are you working on right now?
My work focuses on understanding the first hundred million years of a star’s life and how that affects planet evolution. These years are crucial because it can dictate whether or not a planet keeps its atmosphere, which we know is essential for Earth-like life. Unlike the Sun, young stars are very active: they have lots of flare events and output a lot more energy at harmful wavelengths, like the ultraviolet and x-ray. By better understanding this behavior, we can better constrain which planets outside of the Solar System are the best candidates for potentially hosting life.
Super cool! How does this knowledge help us on Earth?
We are just one tiny planet around one medium sized star in a galaxy with billions of stars and we think every star hosts at least one planet. In order to understand how many of those planets could potentially have conditions suitable for life, we need to understand what their stars are doing.
Can you give us an example?
To put it in the context of Earth, in 1859 the Earth was hit by a very energetic solar flare that knocked out the power grid. This was just one flare on the Sun. Stars, when they are very young, have been seen to have one flare per week! That can cause planets to lose their atmospheres and be overwhelmed with harmful stellar radiation.
The conditions on a planet are really dictated by the star it is orbiting. My work focuses on understanding those conditions. We’re lucky in the sense that the Sun is a very inactive star. Other planets may not be so lucky. And maybe that’s why there’s life here and we haven’t found it elsewhere.
What do you get up to when you’re not in the lab?
I’ve recently started learning how to draw! It’s not necessarily interesting, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and being in quarantine has given me lots of time to get into it.
What does your ideal day off look like
I would say my ideal day off would start off by drawing or doing some kind of craft in the morning and playing with my cats. Then, I’d go hiking or to the beach with lots of sunscreen on. And I’d end the day watching a nature documentary and eating mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Adina Feinstein, welcome to Real Scientists!