Dr. James Neff (College of Charleston, South Carolina) and Dr. Douglas O'Neal (Keystone College, Pennsylvania) will lead an effort to understand the physical conditions in starspots. Analogous to spots on the Sun, starspots are regions in the atmospheres of other stars that are cooler than the rest of the stellar surface. The goals of this project are to use recent advances in atmospheric modeling codes to determine starspot properties, re-analyze extensive databases of existing spectra using the new techniques, expand observational surveys to include cooler stars, and combine various techniques to yield a better understanding of the observational signatures of starspots.
Magnetic activity on the Sun is perhaps the most dramatic way in which astronomy impacts our daily lives. By measuring the properties and distribution of starspots on a wide range of active stars, it might be possible to uncover the fundamental nature of the solar dynamo. Photometric light curve modeling, Doppler imaging, and the spectroscopic properties of molecular bands (which are formed only in starspots, not in the warmer unspotted atmosphere) all yield important information about the distribution, temperature, and fractional coverage of starspots.