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Transcript for Hydrogen Hunters Part 4: Explore the Rainbow

Hello everyone, and welcome back to NASA’s Universe of Learning’s Diaries of the Cosmos.  I’m Rutuparna Das, and you’re listening to the last part of Hydrogen Hunters.  Earlier in this story, we followed Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin as she discovered that stars are made up primarily of hydrogen and helium. 


“The solid ground failed beneath my feet. With the familiar leaping of the heart, I had my first sense of the Cosmos.”


 Then, we chatted with Dr. Antara Basu-Zych, a scientist at NASA who uses hydrogen to explore the universe today.


“You’re getting an idea of what is basically recycled material from the insides of stars.”


Now, we’d like to hear from you!


Did you have any questions after listening to our story and interview today?  Was there something you heard here that absolutely blew your mind?  Let us know your thoughts, ask us your questions!  You can do this on our website, at universeunplugged.org/diaries.  You can ask us questions about the science, or about the history, or both – talk to us about what you’re thinking, and we’ll pick some of these questions to answer on our next installment.


Before we close, I promised to talk about how you can delve deeper into our topics for today – how you can explore the splitting of light into its component colors and the spectra of stars for yourself.  Light can actually be split up quite easily!  We talked about rainbows – you can create your own rainbows by using a garden sprayhose to split light into its component colors right in your backyard.  You can also split light with a CD or DVD – just hold the back of the disc up to the sunlight and tilt it this way and that.  There are these really really narrow ridges on the back of CDs and DVDs, and these ridges act the same way a spectroscope does, and split light into different colors.  Experiment with different kinds of discs – CDs, old DVDs, new blue-ray discs – do you find any differences?  Try other materials – did you find something that worked better than water or DVDs?


After you’ve gone and split light for yourself, you can explore the spectrum of a star through Universe of Learning’s Viewspace program.  Find the link on our website – universeunplugged.org/diaries – and scroll through various ways of observing the star Altair, and see how the light signal from a star actually translates into a spectrum!


Now it’s your turn to talk to us!  What intrigued you about splitting light at home, or what surprised you while examining a spectrum with Viewspace?  Send us the results of your explorations, and of course any thoughts and questions, through the form on our website, at universeunplugged.org/diaries.

Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin was one of the scientific leaders of her day. Through her research and determination to stand by her data, she showed us what the stars are made of. Apart from being a brilliant astronomer and trailblazer for women in astronomy, Cecilia was also an artist and loved to write poetry.  Let’s end today with a poem she wrote titled ‘Research’. Once again, this is Rutuparna Das and thank you for tuning in to NASA’s Universe of Learning’s Diaries of the Cosmos.



O Universe, O Lover,

I gave myself to thee

Not for gold

Not for glory

But for love.

Our children are immortal,

I am the Mother.

The offspring of our love

Will bear the image of a humble mother

And also a proud imperious Father.

Like Danae

I saw him in a stream of glowing stars;

Like Alkmena

Long, long I lay in his terrible embrace.

Their sons go striding round the firmament;

My children gambol at their heels.

Hydrogen Hunters Part 4: Explore the Rainbow

January 8th, 2023

How do we know that stars are mostly Hydrogen and Helium?  Who found that out?  What can we find out about the universe by looking at Hydrogen today?

Join us as we follow Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin as she discovers what stars are made up of.  Meet Dr. Antara Basu-Zych, a scientist at NASA who uses Hydrogen to study the properties of stars today.  Find out how you can split light for yourself, and explore the spectrum of a star.


Antara Basu-Zych, PhD.

Antara Basu-Zych is a research scientist at NASA and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She got her undergraduate at UC Berkeley, completed her PhD at Columbia University and, while she knew that stars and black holes were her destiny from a young age, she took the scenic route to making their study her career.  Her research interests include multiwavelength studies of galaxies near and far, trying to understand how the galaxies in the early Universe relate to those observed in the nearby Universe. Along with scientific research, Antara works for the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive and Research Center (HEASARC) as a staff scientist, working to share the wealth of public NASA data with scientists around the world. In her ever-dwindling spare time, Antara enjoys spending time with her three children (two human and one furry), knitting, and reading. She’s a strong believer in coffee and yoga … but not together.



Elizabeth Gutierrez

Elizabeth Gutiérrez is a 2021 Because of Her Story intern through the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative (AWHI). She holds bachelor degrees in physics and astronomy from The University of Texas at Austin. During her undergraduate studies, Elizabeth researched star formation in the Milky Way and beyond using observations of star-forming regions taken by radio telescopes and data from cosmological simulations. Recently, she has changed careers from astrophysics to become a data science analyst in the financial services industry. In her free time, Elizabeth likes to takes care of the sheep and horses on her ranch located in the Midwest and spend time with family.



Rutuparna Das, PhD

Rutuparna Das is an astrophysicist and science communicator who spends her time learning about the universe and sharing its wonders with everyone around her.  After going to undergrad at MIT, she completed her PhD at the University of Michigan, where she worked on weighing clusters of galaxies and figuring out what the cosmos is made of.  She’s now at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, spreading the joys of space through NASA’s Universe of Learning, and continuing her research into the composition of the universe.  When she’s not staring at the sky, she enjoys reading, crafting crazy desserts, taking an inordinate number of nature photos, and writing (sometimes silly) poetry about the cosmos.





Additional Resources

Analyzing Light: Spectrum of the Star Altair

Analyzing Light: Spectrum of the Star Altair

Patterns in colors of starlight provide important information about the star. Explore the spectrum of the star Altair, or view the accessible version with extended descriptions and image alt-text.

Above and Beyond: Celestial Signature—The Sun’s Spectrum

Above and Beyond: Celestial Signature—The Sun’s Spectrum

Cosmic secrets hide in starlight, but astronomers possess a tool to uncover those secrets--a spectrograph. A short video about the Sun’s spectrum.

Analyzing Light: Southern Crab Nebula

Analyzing Light: Southern Crab Nebula

By using spectra to unravel light, scientists learn more than they can from a picture alone. Explore the spectrum of the Southern Crab Nebula with an interactive lesson and video

Light & Color: Exploring Visible Light Activity Guide

Light & Color: Exploring Visible Light Activity Guide

This activity introduces learners to the visible-light spectrum and color mixing. Your event’s attendees may explore visible light by observing it with diffraction grating glasses to see how it can be broken up into its component colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet).

Spectroscopy 101

Spectroscopy 101

What is spectroscopy, anyway? More info about spectroscopy from JWST.

Science Briefing: Learning about the Universe through Patterns in Light

Science Briefing: Learning about the Universe through Patterns in Light

In this edition of NASA’s Universe of Learning Science Briefings, we will discuss an important tool used by astronomers – spectroscopy – which spreads out light into its component wavelengths like a rainbow, allowing us to see the patterns in brightness caused by atoms and molecules to learn about objects in space.

Reach Across the Stars

Reach Across the Stars

Meet your female space & science heroes (virtually) with this free augmented reality (AR) app that can be used on most AR-compatible tablets and smartphones.

X-ray Binaries

Chandra Field Guide to X-ray Sources Neutron Stars/X-ray 

More about X-ray Binaries.

Examples of X-ray Binaries

Chandra Images of Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries

Examples of X-ray Binaries.


Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA

Join Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA to celebrate the women in STEM and NASA astrophysics.


About Diaries of the Cosmos


How do we know what stars are made of? Who figured out what happens inside stars? How do we know Dark Matter exists? Delve into the “how”s of astronomical discovery, meet the people behind the science, and explore the universe yourself through Diaries of the Cosmos, an audio series showcasing stories of scientists and discovery.

Each story explores a particular astrophysical discovery, and is linked to various NASA missions and initiatives.  These stories showcase both the science and the scientists behind the discovery. We special attention to the lived experiences of scientists, and to the process of science they follow. In each installment, hear about the featured scientists, enjoy a discussion with astronomers, and interact with the science yourself.

This series is brought to you by NASA's Universe of Learning, a part of the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Science Activation program.  More information about this series, as well as other Universe of Learning resources, can be found at universe-of-learning.org.


Development team:

Rutuparna Das, PhD
Astrophysicist and Science Communicator
NASA's Universe of Learning and Chandra X-ray Observatory
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Content development, writing, narration

Kimberly Arcand, PhD
Visualisation Scientist
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Content development and review

Kristin Divona
Visual Information Specialist
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Graphic design

Robert Hurt, PhD
Visualization Scientist

Web and media platform development

April Jubett
Audio Engineer
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Audio editing/mixing

Varoujan Gorjian, PhD
Research Astronomer

Content development and review

Kathleen Lestition
Education & Communications Coordinator
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Content development and review

Colleen F. Manning, PhD
External Evaluator of NASA's Universe of Learning
Goodman Research Group, Inc.

User testing and evaluations

Eric Oh
Associate Applications Developer

Web and media platform development

Timothy Rhue II
Principal Informal Education Specialist
Space Telescope Science Institute

Content development and review