Astronomy major Michael Hill, 21, never dreamed he would be spending a summer in college doing research for NASA's Kepler Mission in search of planets outside the solar system. But after his second year at MiraCosta, Michael was selected from among students throughout California to participate in a 10-week research program starting in June funded by the National Science Foundation, known as the California State University Undergraduate Research Experiences in Astronomy at San Diego State University.
Michael is the first MiraCosta College student to participate in the program and will join a handful of scholars, each of whom will work with a faculty mentor on projects ranging from studying clusters of stars and stellar evolution to searching for extrasolar planets.
“It will be exciting working on a project related to NASA's Kepler Mission, which is still in orbit around the Sun, now searching for earth-like planets in our galaxy,” says Michael.
His research is slated to include measuring the masses and radii of NASA Kepler Mission eclipsing binary stars with real-time observations. He will use research-grade telescopes at Mount Laguna Observatory, 45 miles east of San Diego.
When Michael first joined MiraCosta College’s astronomy program after graduating from Guajome Park Academy in Vista, he was concerned about the heavy emphasis on math and physics required by the major but kept at it, eventually excelling in upper level course work.
One of his favorite classes at MiraCosta College was an astronomy lab course with a significant amount of hands-on time with telescopes.
“It was thrilling to get so much hands-on time with the telescopes and other equipment in our astronomy lab. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to be apart of something so meaningful just entering college,” Michael says.
Along the way, he approached the college’s Astronomy Department for a job and landed a position as an assistant in the astronomy program, first redesigning the program’s website and later assisting students in the astronomy lab course.
“Becoming involved with the MiraCosta astronomy program has been the single most exciting development of my life since beginning college,” Michael says.
In his spare time, Michael uses his computer science expertise to design utility applications relating to astronomy and physics for the iPhone and iPad. He recently designed an app for a landscaping firm that helped them estimate job costs.
Michael will attend UC Berkeley, majoring in astrophysics in the fall and plans to go on to graduate school with the goal of becoming an astronomer.