Astronomy graduate student Nicole Arulanantham received the Chambliss Medal by the American Astronomical Society.
Nicole Arulanantham, who is entering her second year as a graduate student in the Astronomy MA program, was awarded a Chambliss Medal by the American Astronomical Society at its June 3 meeting in Boston. The awards are given to recognize exemplary research by a student presenting a poster paper at an AAS meeting.
Arulanantham worked on the study with her advisor, Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, chair of the Astronomy Department, and Ann Marie Cody of the California Institute of Technology. It involved analysis of data obtained with the Spitzer Space Telescope. Read more about the study online here.
Astronomy major Ben Tweed ’13 also presented a paper at the AAS meeting and reported results of his study of the local interstellar medium using data from the Hubble Space Telescope. His advisor is Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, and the work was done in collaboration with astronomers at the Universities of Warwick and Kiel, as well as University College London. Read more about the study online here.
Wesleyan’s 20-inch refractor telescope, located inside the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill, will undergo renovations for the next 15 months. (Photos by Olivia Drake)
Beginning June 2, the nearly century-old 20-inch Van Vleck Refractor, which lives on Foss Hill in its iconic dome, will get a complete facelift to return it to full working order. The rare historic telescope will be dismantled, cleaned, repaired, reassembled and modernized over a period of about 15 months in preparation of the observatory centennial in 2016. (View several photos of the renovation here.)
The work will be done by Fred Orthlieb, Ph.D. and Chris Ray, members of the Antique Telescope Society who run a company called Ray Museum Studios. Based in Swarthmore, Penn., they are well-regarded experts in the highly-specialized field of antique telescope restoration; Orthlieb is the Isaiah V. Williamson Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at Swarthmore College.
Read more →
Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac was invited to speak at the 2014 Spring Symposium of the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, M.D. on April 29. Kopac spoke on “Specialization of Bacillus in the Geochemcially Challenged Environment of Death Valley.” Watch a video of her 20 minute presentation online here.
Kopac’s talk was part of a four-day interdisciplinary meeting titled “Habitable Worlds Across Time and Space” featuring speakers from around the world working in such diverse fields as biology, geology and astronomy. The focus of the seminar was on identifying places within our Solar System and Galaxy where we can most profitably search for life beyond the Earth.
Astronomy major Raquel Martinez, MA ’13 and William Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, director of graduate studies, also attended the conference.
Both Kopac and Martinez were active active participants in Wesleyan’s Planetary Science Group seminars and activities. Kopac’s advisor is Fred Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies. Martinez’s advisor was Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy.
Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac speaks at the the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Spring Symposium.
Raquel Martiniz MA ’13 poses with her research poster and conference organizer John Debes. Raquel is currently working in NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and has been accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas where she will begin studies in the fall.
Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research on “Dust and Gas in Debris Disks Reveal the Origins of Planetary Systems.” The grant, awarded on April 21, is worth $532,943.
Hughes’ research focuses on understanding the formation and evolution of planetary systems. She particularly studies the huge disks of gas and dust surrounding a young star, which can give insight into how and when a star planet might form. The disk is made up of “junk” left over from the star’s formation.
The main technique Hughes uses to observe these circumstellar disks involves collecting radio waves. Invisible to the human eye, radio light allows astronomers to peer into dense dust clouds and trace the motions of small molecules.
Read more about Hughes’ research on planetary system formation in these past articles:
With his Wesleyan undergraduate and graduate students, Assistant Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield studies exoplanets, the local interstellar medium, and stellar and exoplanetary atmospheres. He talks about the unique opportunity offered through his exoplanet program at Wesleyan, in which students at the undergraduate level participate in cutting-edge research.
Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, director of graduate studies, received a $5,000 grant from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to support observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope. The title of the proposal is “Planet Formation in the Circumbinary Disk of KH 15D.”
Herbst and his colleagues are measuring the brightness of the T Tauri binary system KH 15D covering several important missing orbital phases around minimum light and one near maximum. Data is crucial to understanding the mechanisms behind the observed reddening in the system, which has implications for planetformation and disk evolution.
Learn more about this study online here.
Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, is the co-author of a paper titled “Molecular Gas Clumps from the Destruction of Icy Bodies in the β Pictoris Debris Disk,” published in the journal Science on March 6. Read more about Hughes study in this Wesleyan Connection article.
Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.
A curious mix of dust and gas surrounding a distant star presents a unique mystery – and possibly a front-row seat to planet formation, according to Assistant Professor of Astronomy Meredith Hughes and colleagues, whose paper on the star appears in the March 6 edition of the journal Science.
The group of astronomers, including Hughes and 13 others, were the first to identify the asymmetry and “lumpy” quality of the gas surrounding beta Pictoris, using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The discovery leads to two possible explanations: There may be a giant “exoplanet” lurking nearby (forcing clumps of carbon dioxide to orbit the star on opposite sides) or there has recently been a collision between two Mars-sized bodies. More data must be analyzed to figure out which event happened.
“We actually already knew that there was gas around this star, but we didn’t know how much, or that the gas would be lumpy and asymmetric – the asymmetry is another indication that the gas was probably generated by a recent collision,” explained Hughes.
Beta Pictoris, which is actually a stellar neighbor of Earth, about 60 light years away, is in an active place for planet formation, Hughes said. And the evidence discussed in the Science paper points toward very recent (on astronomical timescales – in this case probably thousands of years) events.
Read more →
Taft Armandroff ’82
Taft Armandroff ’82 has been appointed as director of the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. He’ll be moving to the Lone Star State in June 2014 to claim his new position.
Armandroff’s specialties include dwarf spheroidal galaxies, stellar populations in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, and globular clusters. He will soon be leaving his current position as director of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Prior to Keck, he worked for 19 years at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Ariz., having earned his BA in astronomy with honors at Wesleyan and his Ph.D. from Yale.
“I’m tremendously excited to be joining the Texas astronomy program, and to develop the McDonald Observatory further with new instrumentation and research programs, and to continue the observatory’s stellar efforts to communicate astronomy discoveries to the public,” says Armandroff, in a press release. “There are very few places like UT Austin that can boast such a strong astronomy faculty, total access to a facility like the McDonald Observatory, and participation in a next generation telescope such as the Giant Magellan Telescope.”
Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, spoke with Patrick Skahill and WNPR News on Nov. 15 about the sun flipping its magnetic polarity, which only happens every 11 years. While the change in polarity is not fully understood by scientists, the event is exciting “because this is kind of a probe into the internal workings of the sun, which is actually really hard for us to get a handle on,” according to Redfield.
This solar cycle, Cycle 24, has not been disruptive to satellites or the electric grid, which can react negatively to solar radiation. The sun’s northern hemisphere flipped earlier this summer and the southern hemisphere is poised to flip very soon.
Read the article online here.
“The Local Fluff” by Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy.
On Sept. 24, NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day featured a figure that Assistant Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield generated as part of his research on the interstellar medium, the gas and dust surrounding the Sun and other nearby stars. Each day, NASA features a different image or photograph of the universe, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
The explanation of the figure states: “The stars are not alone. In the disk of our Milky Way Galaxy about 10 percent of visible matter is in the form of gas, called the interstellar medium (ISM). The ISM is not uniform, and shows patchiness even near our Sun. It can be quite difficult to detect the local ISM because it is so tenuous and emits so little light. This mostly hydrogen gas, however, absorbs some very specific colors that can be detected in the light of the nearest stars.
A working map of the local ISM within 20 light-years, based on ongoing observations and recent particle detections from the Earth-orbiting Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite (IBEX), is shown above. These observations indicate that our Sun is moving through a Local Interstellar Cloud as this cloud flows outwards from the Scorpius-Centaurus Association star forming region.
Our Sun may exit the Local Cloud, also called the Local Fluff, during the next 10,000 years. Much remains unknown about the local ISM, including details of its distribution, its origin, and how it affects the Sun and the Earth. Unexpectedly, recent IBEX spacecraft measurements indicate that the direction from which neutral interstellar particles flow through our Solar System is changing.”