CCA student wins national astronomy award

Ryan Clairmont, winner of the National Young Astronomer Award.
Ryan Clairmont, winner of the National Young Astronomer Award.
(Ryan Clairmont)

Ryan Clairmont, 16, a rising senior at Canyon Crest Academy, has won the National Young Astronomer Award, the highest youth research award given by the 18,500-member Astronomical League, according to a news release. The League, a 75-year-old national federation of more than 300 astronomy organizations, was co-founded by famed professional astronomer Dr. Harlow Shapley, of Harvard University.

The award plaque will be presented during the League’s 2021 virtual convention this August. The event is headlined by a cast of accomplished professional astronomers including pulsar discoverer Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, of Oxford University. Clairmont will present his paper at the convention.

Clairmont will receive a plaque, a substantial telescope prize sponsored by Explore Scientific, and an all-expenses paid trip to the League’s 2022 national convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The award was founded in 1993 and is now in its 29th year. Award prizes are sponsored by Scott Roberts and Explore Scientific.

Clairmont’s project involved his creation of the first three dimensional (3D) morpho-kinematic model of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula in the constellation of Draco. Using Hubble Space Telescope images, existing motion-velocity diagrams, and his own spectroscopic observations of the nebula, he was able to create the first 3D hydrodynamic model of the nebula and offer a physically justifiable evolutionary explanation of the nebula’s strange bi-polar nature. He was able to determine that the rings and inner shell of the nebula are consistent with formation by two separate precessing wind events and with the existence of a close binary star at the center of the nebula.

He collected his own spectra of the nebula using an 8-inch Newtonian telescope with spectrograph and CCD camera. The astrophysical models that he generated explain the nebula’s three dimensional ringed structure and provide a plausible physical explanation of the nebula’s evolution, giving further insight into the underlying formation of all planetary nebulae.

Earlier this year, Clairmont’s project also won first place in Physics and Astronomy at the prestigious Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair.

Ryan Clairmont is the son of Mark Clairmont and Arlene Milo-Clairmont.