Tag Archive for Astronomy Department

Johnson ’11 Honored for Exoplanet Research

Marshall Johnson '11 presented his research poster at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, Jan. 10-13 in Seattle, Wash. The AAS awarded Johnson with the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award.

Marshall Johnson '11 presented his research poster at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, Jan. 10-13 in Seattle, Wash. The AAS awarded Johnson with the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award.

Marshall Johnson’s research is out of this world.

For the past two years, the senior astronomy major used the Van Vleck Observatory’s 24-inch Perkin Telescope to study the transits of “exoplanets,” or planets outside our solar system, that orbit another star.

His study, titled “First Results from the Wesleyan Transiting Exoplanet Program,” explains a refined orbital period of a newly-discovered planet named WASP-33b (Wide Angle Search for Planets). Ultimately, Johnson may prove that he’s discovered another planet, WASP-33c.

“Here in Connecticut, with clouds and haze, we don’t have the best observing conditions, but I was still able to obtain high-quality data using our modest-sized telescope,” Johnson says. “The most interesting result, which is still tentative, is that I am seeing transit timing variations in one target. This could be due to an additional planet in the system.”

For his efforts, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) awarded Johnson a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award, which “recognizes exemplary research by undergraduate and graduate students.” Awardees are honored with a Chambliss medal

Telescope Science Institute to Support Redfield’s Cool Stars Project

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, received a $55,973 grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute to support the Advanced Spectra Library Project: Cool Stars.

The grant will allow Redfield to facilitate the analysis of data collected on the Hubble Space Telescope and travel to meetings to present the results. He will collaborate with 20 other researchers from around the world on the project.

“All astronomers, worldwide, put in proposals once a year to use the Hubble to get observations.  They get about 10 times more requests than they have time to give,” Redfield explains. “If you are approved, you send the details of the observations to them, they program them into the computer onboard the spacecraft, and then a couple weeks later you get an e-mail to download your data from the Space Telescope Science Institute web site.”

The project will receive data  from 150 orbits, which is 6 percent of all the time on the Hubble allocated to astronomers worldwide this year. These observations will produce a high quality spectroscopic atlas of eight sun-like, or “cool” stars, which will be used by the wider community for decades to come.

The immediate scientific research enabled by this project will involve magnetic activity, space weather, disk winds of young stars, red dwarf flares, erosion of exoplanet atmospheres, and the properties of the intervening gas and dust in Earth’s cosmic neighborhood.

The grant will support the Cool Stars program through Nov. 30, 2013.

Herbst Receives NSF Grant for Astronomy Consortium

Bill Herbst

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, received a grant for $471,990 from the National Science Foundation. The grant will provide summer research stipends for students and funds for an Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium with the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC).

KNAC is a group of consisting of Wesleyan and seven other institutions (Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley and Williams) that have worked together to improve research experiences for undergraduate astronomy majors.

KNAC was formed 20 years ago with a seed grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation and has been supported in recent years by the NSF. Hundreds of students have been served during this time and many are now professional astronomers or scientists in other fields, Herbst says.

NASA Funds Greenwood’s Lunar Rock Study

Jim Greenwood

James Greenwood, research associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, received a grant worth $494,517 from NASA. The grant will support his research titled “Water in Lunar Rocks: Petrologic and Isotopic Analyses of Phosphate Minerals in Apollo’s Samples” through June 30, 2014.

Malamut ’12 Photographs Rare Eclipse for NASA

Craig Malamut ’12 helped photograph the Easter Island solar eclipse July 11 as a participant of the Williams College Eclipse Expedition. The composite image brings out the correlation of structures in the sun’s inner and outer corona.

On July 11, Craig Malamut ’12 photographed a pacific solar eclipse 2,500 miles west of South America.

As a Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium Summer Fellow, summer exchange student, Malamut had the opportunity to travel to Easter Island with a group from Williams College. The last time an eclipse occurred over the island was in 591 A.D.

The expedition was led by Jay Pasachoff, the Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College and chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses. This was Pasachoff’s 51st solar eclipse study; it was Malamut’s first.

“Before getting this position, I was thinking my first total solar eclipse would be the 2017 eclipse that runs across the entire United States from Oregon to South Carolina,” he says. “I never in a million years thought I’d be going to Easter Island to see the 2010 eclipse. It was one of the least viewed total solar eclipses in recent history due to the fact that most of the path of totality went over the Pacific Ocean.”

Before the eclipse, student researchers Malamut

Jensen’s Research Supported by Space Telescope Institute

Adam Jensen, research associate for the Astronomy Department, received a $68,012 grant from the Space Telescope Institute, AURA, for his research on “Definitive ISM Abundances through Low-mass X-ray Binaries as Lighthouses.”

This research program will use 13 orbits of Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observing time along with archival data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory to better understand the composition of the interstellar dust in our galaxy. 

One HST observation was executed in June, with additional observations to follow this fall.  The project is funded through May 31, 2012.

Honor Thesis Students Present Research at NSM Poster Session

Wesleyan’s Natural Science and Mathematics hosted a “Celebration of Science Theses” April 16 in Exley Science Center’s lobby. BA and MA honors thesis students presented their research to peers and the community.

President Michael S. Roth listens to Wei Dai ’11 explain his research on “Effect of Valency on the Dynamics and Thermodynamics of DNA-linked Nanoparticles Materials.” Dai’s advisor is Francis Starr, associate professor of physics. Wei has conducted extensive computer simulations to show nanoparticles can be linked together using DNA as 'bridges'. The resulting nanostructured materials have unusual properties that may be applicable to energy storage, drug delivery, optical materials and nanoscale devices. Dai also has published a peer-review journal article titled “Valency Dependence of Polymorphism and Polyamorphism in DNA-Functionalized Nanoparticles.” (Photo by Roslyn N. Carrier-Brault)

David Boznick, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, congratulates the BA and MA honors thesis students on their achievements.

Herbst, Redfield Published in Astronomy Publications

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, and Seth Redfield, assistant professor astronomy, are co-authors of the article, “Gas Absorption in the KH 15D System: Further Evidence for Dust Settling in the Circumbinary Disk,” published in The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 711, Issue 2, pp. 1297-1305 in March 2010. Their data supports a picture of a particular circumbinary disk as being composed of a very thin particulate grain layer composed of millimeter-sized or larger objects that are settled within whatever remaining gas may be present.

Herbst also is the author of “Periodic variability in the emission spectrum of T Tauri,” published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Volume 511 in February 2010.

Redfield Awarded NASA Grant

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant from NASA on Jan. 28 for his research titled “Probing the Atomic  & Molecular Inventory of the Beta-PicAnalog, the Young Edge –On Debris Disk of HD32297rp.” The $48,334 grant, will be applied over two years.

Kilgard Receives Grant from Smithsonian Observatory

Roy Kilgard, research assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant on Jan. 4 from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for research titled “ULX in the Most Metal Poor Galaxies.” The award, worth $15,000, will be applied through Dec. 22, 2011.