Edward Moran says he measures the mass of black holes by its gravitational effects on something else that's nearby.
5 Questions is a new feature in The Wesleyan Connection that will ask faculty members – surprise! – five questions about their work and activities.
This issue, the questions go to Edward Moran, chair and associate professor of astronomy and director of the Van Vleck Observatory. His primary area of study is black holes. This summer he received a major National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for an extensive study on “intermediate mass” black holes.
Q: Everyone thinks they know, but once and for all: what is a black hole?
EM: Technically, black holes are places where matter has been crushed down to a single point. In other words, blacks hole can have the mass of a star but absolutely no size. They therefore have infinite density and, in their immediate vicinity, an extremely intense gravitational field.
Q: How are black holes created?
EM: We only know how stellar-mass black holes are created, which is from the explosions of very large stars. As for the types of black holes I study, the “supermassive” black holes that are found at the centers of galaxies, how they are created and what their initial masses are remain open questions at this time. I’m trying
Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant for $20,000 from NASA for his research on “Development and Flight Testing of High Efficiency Echelles & Detectors for the Future of Ultraviolet Astronomy.”
Redfield is collaborating with the project’s lead institution, the University of Colorado. NASA awarded $2.1M for the entire project.
Edward Moran, chair and associate professor of astronomy, director of the Van Vleck Observatory, received a grant from the National Science Foundation for his research titled “Black Holes in the Milky Way’s Backyard.” The grant, worth $275,164, will be applied over three years. The award, presented on Aug. 26, is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Extra-solar planets was the theme of StarConn, an all-day convention and astronomy celebration held at Wesleyan on June 4. The event was an outreach effort presented by the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford with the help of the university. The event featured lectures and a two-hour observing session with the 20-inch Clark refractor at Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory.
Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, was one of the speakers at the event. He is featured in a June 4 Meriden Record Journal article about StarConn. The article is online here.
Brian Stewart, associate professor pf physics, demonstrates how liquid nitrogen looks like water but evaporates rapidly at room temperature. Fifth grade students from Snow Elementary School toured the Wesleyan sciences June 19.
Vacek Miglus, lab technician and curator of the Physics Department, shows the students how various lamps are lit by a Tesla coil without being attached to wires. Brian Stewart is on the right.
Laurel Appel, adjunct associate professor of biology, senior research associate and director of the McNair Program, watches DNA fibers come out of a solution as ice-cold alcohol meets the warm, salty, DNA solution. One of the students described the reaction as looking like a spiderweb.
McNair fellow Kelley Miller '10, at right, helps the Snow Elementary School students isolate DNA from wheat germ. The recipe for this, and other experiments is online at http://lappel.web.wesleyan.edu/expts.htm.
Astronomy graduate student Amy Langford, at right, teaches the students about Wesleyan's Alvan Clark 20-inch refractor telescope inside the observatory. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)
Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, has received funding from NASA for three research grants. From the Space Telescope Science Institute a grant of $138,639 for his research “A SNAPSHOT Survey of the Local Interstellar Medium: New NUV Observations of Stars with Archived FUV Observations”, and $50,766 for his research “Probing the Atomic & Molecular Inventory of the Beta-Pic Analog, the young, Edge-On Debris Disk of HD32297.” Both awards include new observations with the Hubble Space Telescope. From the JPL Spitzer Program $41,213 for his research of “Interactions of the Cold and Hot ISM: Imaging the Nearest Molecular Clouds in the Local Bubble.” This award includes new observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Redfield also was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant of $316,789, titled “Comparative Exoplanetology: Ground-Based Observations of the Atmospheres of Transiting Exoplanets.” For this work, Redfield is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin.
Hannah Sugarman ’09 speaks on “Finding Intermediate Mass Black Holes in the Local Universe” during the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium Nov. 8.
Astronomers interested in black holes generally study small, low-mass types within our own galaxy, or super-massive black holes found in the center of other large galaxies. But during the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium Nov. 7-8 at Wesleyan. astronomy major Hannah Sugarman ’09 explained the importance of finding intermediate mass black holes in the local universe.
“Small black holes are about 30 times the mass of the sun, and the big, super-massive black holes have a mass of about a million times the mass of the sun. Intermediate mass black holes are in between these mass limits,” Sugarman says. “They are important because if super-massive black holes are made by slightly smaller ones combining, we want to be able to observe the smaller ones to see how this works.”
Erin Arai, a graduate student in astronomy, speaks about her photograph of a commuter rail station during the opening reception for the exhibit Photographic Window on Causes of Climate Change Nov. 5 in Van Vleck Observatory. All photographs in the show were taken by students enrolled in Astronomical Pedagogy Seminar, and exhibited waste and carbon use excesses.