Growing up in the California desert, Qicheng Zhang developed an early appreciation for stars and the universal expanse beyond the sky. But his biggest space curiosity by far was with comets, those celestial bodies of ice, gas and dust, leftovers from the long-ago formation of stars and planets.
In high school, Zhang started writing software as a hobby and, naturally, turned to the sky for inspiration. His comet knowledge hit new heights through his development of a planetarium program, which required detailed information about a comet’s location, direction and brightness.
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in astronomy and astronomical events,” said Zhang, now a fourth-year physics student in UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies. “Comets are one of the few astronomical phenomena that you can just go out, say to Campus Point at UCSB, and see it, night to night, moving. Back in the 2013 the sungrazing comet ISON was so bright you could walk out in the morning and see its bright beam. That’s so fascinating to me.”
At UCSB, that fascination has been fostered into a research focus that is already paying academic dividends for the aspiring astrophysicist. Zhang spent his recent summer in a prestigious, comet-focused internship at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Shortly after returning, he kicked off the 2016 academic year by publishing and presenting a paper, co-authored with UCSB physics professor Philip Lubin, to the SPIE Optics and Photonics conference.
Read the full article at UCSB Current - A Comet Star