NASA Mission Directorate
Research Participation Program

Meet Rubab Khan

From his home country of Bangladesh to working as a NASA postdoc, Rubab Khan describes his career path as a very exciting journey indeed. Khan conducts research at the Goddard Space Flight Center, which, with over 13,000 on-site personnel, is the largest NASA research center in the United States. Here, he collaborates with other researchers to facilitate the advancement of space science. Specifically, Khan uses data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescope to further the understanding of distant celestial bodies.


Rubab Khan studies supermassive stars at Goddard Space Flight Center. Khan’s research incorporates data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes and has revealed previously unknown very high mass stars in other galaxies.

“As an observational astrophysicist primarily working with space telescope images, much of my work can be described as data-analysis. On a day-to-day basis, it primarily consists of ‘finding a needle in the haystack’ – that is, figuring more efficient ways to find interesting objects hiding in troves of archival data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes,” Khan said.

Khan studies the life cycles of massive stars, tracking how they grow old and eventually die. Recently Khan was credited for his research concerning extragalactic objects similar to the Eta Carinae stellar system. One of the most luminous stars in our galaxy, Eta Carinae is binary star system (deleted). Khan’s research revealed that stars similar to Eta Carinae are found in other galaxies and pin-pointed five objects of comparable properties. Kahn’s discovery recently received national attention when NASA issued a press release on this research. 

Studying these stars is important for understanding the formation and growth of galaxies.

These stars produce some of the the highest energy explosions in our universe. Known as Superluminous Supernovae and Gamma Ray bursts, these explosions play a critical role in catalyzing the chemical and physical evolution of galaxies. These explosive events produce and disperse many of the elements such as carbon, oxygen, silicon etc. that characterize the world we live in.

 “So in a way, understanding the evolution of the most massive stars helps us better understand what makes the universe tick,” Khan explained.

While most of Khans work up to this point has incorporated data from the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes, he is currently preparing to expand his research by incorporating data from the James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope, which is currently under construction, will mark the latest generation of space telescopes when it is launched in 2018.

“This program gives me a behind-the-scenes look at how upcoming NASA space missions progress leading up to launch. This allows me to learn about the capabilities and limitations of these missions. In the long run, this will help me plan ahead for observing with future space telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope,” Kahn said.