- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - A lot of soon-to-be college graduates are told to “reach for the stars.” Kyle Connour is doing it.

The Illinois Wesleyan University senior and Tri-Valley High School graduate, who will receive his physics degree, already has had a research paper based on asteroid observations published in the peer-reviewed journal Minor Planets Bulletin.

This summer, Connour will be observing other asteroids with a large telescope on a mountaintop in Chile.

This fall the rural Bloomington man will begin graduate school at the University of Colorado-Boulder in its astrophysical and planetary sciences department.

“I’ve always had an interest in science in general,” Connour said.

He recalls reading an article while in elementary school about more planets being discovered.

“There could be planets that are potentially like Earth,” he said. “That kind of sparked my imagination about what’s out there.”

Physics professor Linda French, who supervised Connour’s work in IWU’s Mark Evans Observatory, said most people in her field are either observers or theorists.

“Kyle has always been interested in both. He really wants to know the ‘why’ about everything,” she said.

He started working at the observatory in the fall semester of his sophomore year. That summer, he was part of a team of students making observations and calibrations that enabled the observatory to be certified by the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Last summer, he focused on a study of the asteroid 548 Semiramis. French helped him pick the target, one in need of observation that could be seen with IWU’s telescope.

“We ran into a lot of problems,” Connour said. They included problems with alignment and getting the telescope to track the asteroid as it moved across the night sky.

But rather than getting discouraged, Connour said it was “really rewarding” to figure out problems he ran into, even though the solutions sometimes required tedious work.

He documented each problem and how it was resolved - something he learned in his classes - so students who encounter the same or similar problems can learn from what he did.

“He’s persistent,” French said. “It’s such a pleasure to work with a student like this.”

She also credits IWU’s liberal arts emphasis for his early success in getting published.

“He’s a strong science student, but he also can write,” French said.

As happy as he is about being a published researcher, what excited Connour more is that “I was able to do it with resources here on campus.”

Other researchers have to apply for time on faraway telescopes, making observations via computer. He - and those working with him - had nearly unlimited access to the observatory’s telescope.

At the University of Colorado, he is looking forward to opportunities to work with professors doing projects affiliated with NASA. He wants to “be part of a team exploring the next frontier” and answering questions such as whether humans could live on Mars.

Connour said his parents, Dave and Becky Connour, have been very supportive of his interests.

He said, “They always told me growing up, ‘If you work at something you enjoy, you don’t have to work a day in your life.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1E84iWo

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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