Luther College student researches eclipsing Messier stars

August 15, 2017

Messier 23, also known as M23, is an open cluster in the constellation Sagittarius. Torger Jystad, Luther College junior of St. Charles, Minnesota, is researching and observing eclipsing binary stars in M23 as part of his summer research at the college.

Jystad, the son of Steve and Susan Jystad, of St. Charles, is a 2015 graduate of St. Charles High School. He is majoring in physics at Luther.

“I have learned that it is possible to have a childhood dream of looking at the stars come together with another passion of physics, and understand how those stars work. I have gone from admiring the stars to analyzing them, so that I can admire them in a deeper way,” said Jystad.

An eclipsing binary star is a system with two stars that orbit one another and during orbit either cover a portion or the entirety of the other star. By modeling the brightening and dimming of the eclipsing binary stars, it is possible to calculate how fast the stars are orbiting each other. Changes in orbital period provide vital clues about how these stars interact with one another and shed mass. Jystad is sifting through 15 years of data that has been collected at Luther to better determine the orbital periods of these systems and to look for subtle changes in those periods.

Jystad is working with Jeff Wilkerson, Luther professor of physics, associate dean and director of faculty development, on this ongoing project.

The group’s collaboration is funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide range of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther’s academic core.

The results of the project will be presented at Luther’s Student Research Symposium in 2018.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,150, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: