NASA Grant Awarded to MNU Professor

Apr. 14, 2014 - by Carol Best

Grant to Study Terrestrial Impact of Nearby Supernovae

By Carol Best
April 14, 2014
Supernova Icon

Physics professor Andrew Overholt, PhD, learned last week that he and two colleagues will receive a $500,000 NASA Exobiology grant over three years to study the “Terrestrial Impact of Nearby Supernovae.” MNU’s portion of the grant is $150,000 which will be used to support the research, obtain additional computing equipment and fund a student research assistant.

“This is the kind of research we encourage our students to seek out over the summer at other research facilities,” Overholt says. “It is exciting to get to have it here at MNU for a top science student.”

Overholt conducts research with University of Kansas Professor Adrian Melott, PhD, and Brian Thomas, PhD, of Washburn University in a group they have named the KU Astrophysics Biology Working Group. The new research is in a relatively “untouched area” according to Overholt.Overholt-AndrewDr. Overholt

“No one has studied all of the effects there would be on Earth of a nearby supernova,” he says. “Nearby in this instance would be about 10 parsecs or 30 light years.”

A supernova occurs when large stars run out of fuel and collapse, this collapse then leads to a large explosion. Overholt says this happens very frequently because there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. But statistically they do not happen very close to Earth. A recent study shows that Earth has experienced a nearby supernova in the distant past.

Evidence of “supernova dust” was found in a mud core sample at the bottom of the ocean. Overholt says that a rare iron isotope found in this dust and eaten by bacteria was found in bacteria skeletons which were trapped in the sea floor. Scans of the mud core found the iron deposits proving the supernova dust was there.

Cosmic Rays

Overholt and his colleagues will each study separate aspects of supernova effects. Thomas will focus on atmospheric effects such as ozone depletion. Overholt will study cosmic ray secondaries, high energy pieces of matter that can cause radiation sickness and cancer. Melott will conduct models of the rays from their source before they reach the Earth. All of this research is done through computer modeling requiring data analysis by supercomputers such as the National Science Foundation’s TeraGrid, a cyberinfrastructure of high-performance computers at 11 locations nationwide.  

The colleagues hope to learn how bad a worst case scenario would be, if a nearby supernova is survivable, how close it could be and still be survivable as well as effects on other planets with thinner atmospheres (like Mars).

“This is an unanswered question,” Overholt says. “We know these happen and statistically they should happen near us, but no one really knows what would happen on Earth if there was a nearby supernova.”

The three-year study will be published based on results after peer review.

 
 

MNU News

Tuesday, December 6
Recent News
List
Grid
Archives
Straley-5
Alum Mixes Faith and Forensic Science

Alum Mixes Faith and Forensic Science

When forensic science comes to mind, scenes from CSI and NCIS may flash before your eyes. What you might not think about is one’s faith. But 2015 alum Hannah Straley has figured out how to balance…

Read More
GivingTuesday IG-firstphoto
Today is MNU Giving Tuesday

Today is MNU Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, the global day of giving fueled by social media and the collective support of millions. MNU’s goal is to reach 500 donations today and here’s how you can participate. All…

Read More
Spittal Official Headshot 2012 small edited
Spittal Elected to Second Five-Year Term at MNU

Spittal Elected to Second Five-Year Term at MNU

MidAmerica Nazarene University’s Board of Trustees unanimously passed a renewal vote for a five-year term of its fifth president, Dr. David J.…

Read More
Cunninghams 2014 Cathedral Builders Award
Student Center To Be Named After Cunninghams

Student Center To Be Named After Cunninghams

When MNU’s Bright Futures: the campaign for MNU was announced last month, many were delighted to hear that the new Student Center would be named…

Read More
IMG 0115
Scholarship Challenge Set for Jan. 27-28, 2017

Scholarship Challenge Set for Jan. 27-28, 2017

MNU’s second annual Scholarship Challenge is set for Jan. 27-28, 2017. The best and brightest high school seniors can compete at this year’s…

Read More
GivingTuesday IG-firstphoto-v2
Giving Tuesday is Nov. 29 at MNU

Giving Tuesday is Nov. 29 at MNU

Giving Tuesday, the global day of giving fueled by social media and the collective support of millions, is Nov. 29. This year MNU will participate in the philanthropic movement now in its fifth year.…

Read More
Emily Phillips 1
Senior’s Compassion Grows Through Internships

Senior’s Compassion Grows Through Internships

When student Emily Phillips went to Greece to intern with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in the Syrian refugee camps, she wasn’t expecting her…

Read More
Students Walking
MNU Receives $300K from Sunderland Foundation for New Student Center

MNU Receives $300K from Sunderland Foundation for New Student Center

The proposed Cunningham Student Center is part of the new Bright Futures: the campaign for MNU, a three-priority, multi-year campaign for $61…

Read More
Nursing Sim I
Collaboration with Olathe Fire Department Makes Realistic Simulation for Students

Collaboration with Olathe Fire Department Makes Realistic Simulation for Students

Yesterday the Olathe Fire Department participated in a collaborative simulation with pre licensure nursing students at MNU. For students it started…

Read More
Sports
Pioneers Hit 8 National Qualifying Marks in Opener

Pioneers Hit 8 National Qualifying Marks in Opener

Track and Field season is officially underway. The Pioneer men and women showed out in their first meet at KU this weekend...(click title for more)

 
Pioneers Drop Tight Road Contest

Pioneers Drop Tight Road Contest

#8 MBB at Missouri Valley | L 76-80

 
Huge 4th Quarter Keys Road Win

Huge 4th Quarter Keys Road Win

MNU trailed by 9 points late in the third quarter, but a 21-3 run put the Pioneers in control in a 78-72 victory at Missouri Valley on Saturday...(click title for more)

 
Latest Photos
Olathe Mayor's Christmas Tree Lighting
Ice Skating
Ice Skating
Ice Skating
Thrid Half
Thrid Half