Mexican student wins coveted international astronomy prize

Only two Latin American students have won the Raynor L. Duncombe Student Research Prize

Mexican student wins coveted international astronomy prize
Jorge Antonio Pérez Hernández is a doctoral candidate of the Institute of Physical Sciences (ICF) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) - Photo: Taken from UNAM DGCS's website
English 19/09/2020 13:04 Newsroom Mexico City Actualizada 13:04

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Jorge Antonio Pérez Hernández, a doctoral candidate of the Institute of Physical Sciences (ICF) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), has been granted the Raynor L. Duncombe 2020 Student Research Prize that awards the most outstanding astronomers and that includes institutions endorsed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

He obtained the recognition in Dynamical Astronomy Research thanks to his studies on the Apophis asteroid, a rocky celestial body discovered in 2004 with an approximate diameter of 400 meters that caused a lot of concern back then for it was thought there was a high probability of it crashing with Earth in 2029.

“Its collision against our planet has been currently dismissed for that year, however, there are still possibilities starting in 2060,” as explained by the UNAM student regarding his investigation, which will also part of his dissertation.

Pérez Hernández is the third Latin American student who receives this award created in 1995 by the Division of Dynamical Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society.

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This year's edition included the participation of nearly 60 students from universities like Yale, Colorado, Maryland, and Caltech, among others.

“The prize means to give Mexico and the UNAM a great name. It’s important that, as students, we focus on big goals and challenges. We must dare to play at the level of other institutions that make high-quality research because that is the UNAM’s level,” said the award winner.

The student, along with the support from his tutor, Luis Benet Fernández, who is a member of the General Direction of Computing and Information Technologies and Communication of the UNAM, resorted to computing calculations to understand the “Yarkovsky Effect,” which disrupts the orbit of the Apophis asteroid due to solar radiation, accumulated for a specific period, based on optical and radar observations.

“Determining it is fundamental to predict the movement of the asteroid and assess the risk of it crashing with Earth,” asserted Pérez Hernández in a release published by the UNAM. These results match other reports about the “Yarkovsky Effect,” which is studied by two teams in the world: the University of Pisa and the Center for Near-Earth Objects Studies of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Mexican student also acknowledged the support he received from the UNAM’s supercomputing area and the ICF: “We are very grateful with those in charge of the Miztli supercomputer because this research was highly demanding in computing terms; Miztli was essential to achieve the results and being able to compete against institutions endorsed by NASA,” he added.

After Pérez Hernández sent a recording about his research, he partook in a Q&A session with experts from the universities of Princeton, Toronto, and Colorado, who were in charge of evaluating him. Along with him, another three students from Yale, Cornell, and Colorado were awarded.