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Undergrad Makes Rare Galactic Discovery, Is Topped By Classmate

The professor for both students said they "hit the jackpot."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    When San Jose State senior Richard Vo identified an ultra compact dwarf galaxy, it was the densest collection of stars ever discovered. That is, until his classmate, Michael Sandoval, took a whack at finding one, too.

    If Michael Sandoval ever takes a second course in astrophysics, the world better look out.

    In fact, the entire universe might want to take note.

    That's because while taking his first-ever course in the subject matter,  the 21-year-old San Jose State senior managed to make a record-breaking discovery: the densest collection of stars, or ultra compact dwarf galaxy, ever identified in the universe.

    What's even more remarkable is that if Sandoval would like to discuss his finding with the previous record holder, he only needs to look across the room at his classmate, Richard Vo.

    Michael Sandoval and Richard Vo, both San Jose State undergraduates have been credited with the discovery of two of the densest UCD's, or ultra compact dwarf galaxies, ever identified.

    Aaron Romanowsky is the lucky professor who gets to claim both students as his own. "It's so great for them to have hit the jackpot," Romanowsky says. "And not only hitting the jackpot, but twice."

    It was Vo who first became interested in ultra compact dwarf galaxies, or UCD's, last year.  He approached his professor and asked how he could learn more.

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    Romanowsky provided him with a set of data collected from an observatory related to one part of the sky known to include one UCD. "He didn't tell me where," Vo recalls, "just showed me the tools, told me to find it, and show him the results."

    It was a almost full year before Vo had mastered the different software programs he would need to use to analyze the data to find what he was looking for.

    Richard made his find after being given a set of data from an observatory known to include one UCD, Richard managed to find another, even denser, one.

    When he began searching, though, it didn't take long for Vo to find the UCD he was supposed to find. But he also spotted another one: a UCD more densely packed with stars than had ever been found before.

    "It seemed like he had found something right away," Romanowsky says, "which is usually a mistake, but it turned out to be real."

    Vo's discovery was so significant he was flown to Hawaii and given time at the Keck Observatory to confirm his finding.

    It was when Vo presented his finding to his classmates, though, that Sandoval took note.

    Richard Vo was flown to Hawaii and given time on the Keck Observatory to confirm his discovery.

    "I wanted to get involved," Sandoval says.

    Vo graciously shared with Sandoval all the searching methods he had developed and Sandoval set to work on a set of space data himself. "I was frantically searching through all these galaxies because I wanted to find a galaxy."

    Barely a month later, Sandoval's wish was granted.

    The UCD he discovered, though, was an even denser collection of stars than what Vo had found. It was the new record holder, by far.

    Both San Jose State undergrads are now collaborating on a paper detailing their two discoveries, and preparing to present it to the scientific community.

    The two undergraduates are collaborating on a scientific paper detailing their discoveries.