Thomas E. Oberst

Associate Professor
Hoyt Science Resources Center
Campus Mailbox: 1
 (724) 946-7204

Thomas E. Oberst
Department of Physics
Westminster College
New Wilmington, PA 16172
oberstte -at-

About Me

Assistant Professor of Physics
Director, Westminster College Planetarium and Observatory
B.S. Physics, Duquesne University, 2001
B.S. Mathematics, Duquesne University, 2001
M.S. Physics, Cornell University, 2007
Ph.D. Astrophysics, Cornell University, 2009
I teach several courses in physics and astronomy for the Westminster College Department of Physics, including:
Astronomy (PHY 121), Foundations of Physics (PHY 141), Optics (PHY 231), Thermal Physics (PHY 311), Modern Physics (PHY 313), Electromagnetic Theory (PHY 352), and Astrophysics (PHY 402).
Discovering new planets
Every clear night, my students and I use a remotely controlled semi-automated telescope on the Westminster College campus to search for new worlds. Our current targets include exoplanetary candidates from the KELT project, which we help to vet and characterize. We have recently observed the transits of several new exoplanets which have not yet been announced to the public. Seeing exoplanets directly is very difficult because they are extremely distant and don’t produce their own light, as do stars. Therefore, we wait and watch for stars to dim when their planets cross in front of them – a technique known as the transit method. We have been able to detect dimmings of as little as 0.2 % of a star’s brightness, which correspond to planets ranging in size from super-Earths to inflated Jupiters, depending on the size of the host star.
Stellar nurseries
My other line of research asks, “what environment are stars born into?” To help answer this, I’ve observed from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and from the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory (AST/RO) at the Earth’s south pole. Stellar nurseries are shrouded in clouds of gas and dust, which are best penetrated by and emit most of their energy in the far-infrared and submillimeter colors of light. Because moisture in Earth’s atmosphere blocks these colors, the best telescopes for these observations are located where it’s high, dry, and cold. These observations have helped determine basic properties of the places where stars are first formed – including what types of chemicals are present and their abundances and densities.
Select Publications & Presentations
Collins, K. A., Siverd, R., Beatty, T. G., Eastman, J., Gaudi, B. S., Pepper, J., Stassun, K., Latham, D. W., Bieryla, A., Manner, M., Jensen, E. L., Kielkopf, J. F., Gregorio, J., Fulton, B. J., Buchhave, L. A., Penev, K., Crepp, J. R., Cargile, P., Mack, C. E., Oberst, T. E., Avril, R. L., Mellon, S., McLeod, K. K., Dhital, S., Stefanik, R. P., Calkins, M. L., Esquerdo, G., Berlind, P. L., Street, R., Zambelli, R., Mao, Q., Richert, A. J., Gould, A., Depoy, D. L., Marshall, J. L., Pogge, R. W., Trueblood, M., Trueblood. P., KELT-6b: A Transiting Mildly-Inflated Saturn with a Metal-Poor Host, 222nd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Indianapolis, IN, June 1-6, 2013.
Oberst, T. E., Transit Search of Faint Stars Using Off-the-Shelf Equipment, Sagan Summer Workshop, Caltech, Pasadena, CA, July 23-27, 2012.
Oberst, T. E., Observing Exoplanet Transits with Amateur Equipment, AAAP Invited Talk, Carnegie Science Center and Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh, PA, May 11, 2012.
Oberst, T. E., Parshley, S. C., Nikola, T., Stacey, G. J., Löhr, A., Lane, A. P., Stark, A. A., Kamenetzky, J., A 205 um [NII] map of the Carina Nebula, The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 739, Issue 2, 2011.
Oberst, T. E., Parshley, S. C., Nikola, T., Stacey, G. J., Loehr, A., Lane, A. P., Stark, A. A., Kamenetzky, J., Submillimeter and Far-Infrared Observations of the Carina Nebula, 218th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Boston, MA, May 21-26, 2011.
Oberst, T. E., Astronomy from the Bottom of the World, University of Pittsburgh Department of Physics and Astronomy public lecture series at the Allegheny Observatory, Pittsburgh, PA, June 18, 2010.
Hailey-Dunsheath, S., Nikola, T., Stacey, G. J., Oberst, T. E., Parshley, S. C., Benford, D. J., Staguhn, J. G., and Tucker, C. E., Detection of the 158 um [CII] Transition at z = 1.3: Evidence for a Galaxy-wide Starburst, The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 714, pp. L162-L166, 2010.
Oberst, T. E., A 205 um [NII] Map of the Carina Nebula, XXVIIth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3–14, 2009.
Hailey-Dunsheath, S., Nikola, T., Stacey, G. J., Oberst, T. E., Parshley, S. C., Bradford, C. M., Ade, P. A. R., Tucker, C. E., Detection of the 13CO(J = 6 – 5) transition in the Starburst Galaxy NGC 253, The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 689, Issue 2, pp. L109-L112, 2008.

  • Ryan L. Avril
  • Samuel N. Mellon
  • Sarah A. Mauri
  • William P. Armentrout, currently in astronomy Ph.D. program at West Virginia University
  • Daniel K. Giles, worked for Boeing Corp., currently in physics Ph.D. program at Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Stefanie Mack, currently in Ph.D. program at the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography
  • Chris Ellwanger, M.S. in mechanical engineering at University of Pittsburgh, currently works for Leam Drilling
Outreach at the Westminster College Planetarium
I direct the Westminster College Planetarium, where we offer indoor fulldome programs and outdoor stargazing for the College, surrounding community, K-12 classes, scouts, and other groups. For more information please visit our website at