Dr. Lisa Prato researches young binary stars at Lowell Observatory and has been doing this work since 2004. She was first inspired by her mother who always loved astronomy and observing the natural world. Watching the changes in nature and movements of celestial bodies used to be a part of everyday life for humanity. In fact, survival depended on it. However, in today’s busy world, many of these skills are becoming rare, and science depends on reinvigorating curiosity and observation of the night sky.

Dr. Prato was always drawn to learning about the natural world but did not realize she wanted to pursue astronomy until she took a class and fell in love with the field. She realized, there are many mysteries to uncover in the stars.

“I am an observer of the natural world.”

Dr. Prato spends much of her time in the lab researching, writing code, making plots and brainstorming ideas. Dr. Prato also enjoys the opportunity to teach and mentor her students as well as collaborating with colleagues. To be a scientist is to do both direct research and collaboration on projects. Dr. Prato is also committed to providing data to the public and fulfills this effort by maintaining a webpage with a sortable young binary star database and H-band spectral catalogue, which may be observed at http://www2.lowell.edu/users/lprato/YBIN/Binary_Star_Database.html. She finds that it is an important way to share information among researchers and to lay people who are inspired by the stars.

Dr. Prato has been able to spend lots of time on the world’s biggest telescope, in Hawaii. The moment of seeing a spectrum no one else has seen before is an especially exciting part of being an astronomer. Spectrums allow researchers to understand more about the composition of stars. Data includes looking at temperature, magnetic field, and rotation. It can take years to collect this important information.

People with an interest in the night sky do not need to apply to graduate school or visit telescopes in Hawaii before starting to learn about the stars. What is exciting is that there are many ways for lay people to get involved and start learning. Citizen science projects, like Backyard Worlds and Zooniverse are great ways to get involved, even from one’s own home. Scientists cannot keep their eyes on the skies every moment of the day, and having citizen scientists involved is important to understanding the cosmos. Coconino County is especially lucky, as the Lowell Observatory provides education and volunteer opportunities for curious minds of all ages! Dark skies communities also help people observe celestial bodies. In many communities, light pollution reduces visibility, making observation difficult or even impossible. However, dark skies communities allow people to see stars and planets with much greater ease, and this is the case all throughout Coconino County.

"Anyone with curiosity and a desire to learn about the cosmos can get involved with learning, volunteering, and citizen science projects."

When not researching astronomy and astrophysics and mentoring students, Dr. Prato also enjoys horse riding and dressage. She says that riding is the closest thing a person can get to feeling like they’re flying while remaining on the ground. She enjoys riding cross country at Fort Tuthill County Park.

Whether riding, biking, running, hiking, or watching the skies, Dr. Prato advises people to keep moving and exploring. Whatever it is, the things that keep you curious about the world and challenging yourself are the things that keep you excited about life.

“Keep trying new things, keep challenging yourself, and get out in the world!"