Summer Centered: Dominick Rowan ’20 Studies Our Galaxy’s Supply of Star-Making Clouds
The intended astrophysics major is using funding from the KINSC to study the magnetic fields of gaseous clouds that provide matter for our galaxy’s stars.
With his summer research, Dominick Rowan ’20 is “watching the clouds go by.” But these aren’t just any clouds. The intended astrophysics major will be examining data concerning high-velocity clouds of gaseous matter to see how they can enter our galaxy without falling apart. Funded by the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC), Rowan will work with Alex Hill, visiting assistant professor of astronomy, to verify a theory that would explain how these clouds—the supply of all the “stuff” that makes up the Milky Way’s billions of stars—make their way in from the cosmos.
“There’s lots of stars in our galaxy… The materials that have formed stars are these big clouds of gas that eventually condense. We know these big clouds of gas are entering the Milky Way,” explained Rowan, a multi-instrumental musician and ultimate frisbee player who now hopes to conduct astrophysical research for a career. “What we don’t know is how they don’t get ripped apart from all these hydrodynamic forces. One possible way would be is if they had a magnetic field strong enough to hold themselves together.”
Rowan will test for the existence of these clouds’ magnetic fields through computation, drawing from data collected in 2013 from the Compact Array, a collection of six antennae in Southeast Australia. His dataset has to do with light from other galaxies, which changes according to the specifications of a cloud’s magnetic field. Working on campus, most of his time will be spent in the Stokes Hall Astronomy Lab, where he will use special computer programs to calculate the high-velocity clouds’ theoretical magnetic fields based on this light.
Despite just finishing his first year at Haverford, this isn’t the first time Rowan has conducted exciting astrophysical research. Back when he attended Byram Hills High School in his native Armonk, N.Y., he detected a previously unknown Jupiter-like planet called HD 32963b. For his work, he was a finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, and was published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Rowan says that research helped give him the computing experience that he can now apply to his work with Hill, but otherwise his new project is unrelated. After enjoying Emeritus Professor of Astronomy Bruce Partridge’s “First-Year Seminar in Astrophysics,” Rowan is excited to explore the many possibilities that the field has to offer.
“Space is cool, everyone knowns space is cool,” he said. “For me, any way to apply basic physics that we learn in intro-level classes, or even in high school, to such a larger scale, to understand where we come from, how our galaxy exists, how Earth exists… it’s always been interesting to me."
-Michael Weber '19
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.