Once Abigail's father brought home a borrowed telescope when she was a fourth-grader, and she saw the rings of Saturn, "I was hooked." Someday, she adds, she wants to travel to the moon or Mars for some geological spade work. She got a taste of Martian geology last year. Abigail was among 16 students who worked 10 days at the control center for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover.

fraeman project
Abigail Fraeman, with her telescope. Her project was in the category of Space Sciences.
For now, though, Abigail has to be content to peer up at the heavens — but not just with her own 8-inch Celestron telescope. For her Intel Science Talent Search project, she got to work with data collected by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. She spent last summer at Carnegie Institution in Washington, analyzing the data with a team that was trying to make sense of the water-vapor cloud around a star with the unromantic name of IRC +10216.

The water vapor was discovered in the summer of 2001 — and was an instant sensation. The cloud is monstrous: 30 billion miles across. Astronomers figure the cloud almost certainly comes from melting comets, those big ice balls that occasionally trace long, glowing trails in Earth's night sky. But to account for so much water vapor, IRC +10216 would have to be regularly melting comets by the billions. The star appears to be surrounded by vast numbers of comets, but oddly, they're a lopsided group, preferring one side of the star.

Abigail suggested there was a good explanation for this unusual cluster of comets: It could be orbiting an unseen Jupiter-size planet. She created a computer simulation of her hypothetical solar system, and it confirmed that a such a planet could support a huge population of comets. The planet still hasn't been spotted yet, however. Abigail presented her findings in January at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting.

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Abigail Ann Fraeman

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Montgomery Blair High School
Silver Spring, Md.

Hobbies: Violin, fencing, acting, music

Ambition: Field geologist on the moon or Mars