Tag Archive for planetary

Scholarship Helps Lieman-Sifry ’15 Study Gas Planet Formation

Jesse Lieman-Sifry '15 visited the Sub Millimeter Array in Hawaii this summer to help observe, learn about how radio astronomy data is collected, and see the array of antennas up close. Lieman-Sifry recently received a $5,000 Undergraduate Directed Campus Scholarship from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium to support his ongoing research on gas planet formation.

Jesse Lieman-Sifry ’15 visited the Sub Millimeter Array in Hawaii this summer to help observe, learn about how radio astronomy data is collected, and see the array of antennas up close. Lieman-Sifry recently received a $5,000 Undergraduate Directed Campus Scholarship from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium to support his ongoing research on gas planet formation.

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For the past year and a half, Jesse Lieman-Sifry ’15, an astronomy and physics double major, has focused his undergraduate research on understanding the formation of gas planets. This month, Lieman-Sifry received a $5,000 Undergraduate Directed Campus Scholarship from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, funded by NASA. The award will be applied to his financial aid package and support his ongoing research in the Astronomy Department.

Jesse Lieman-Sifry uses data to model the dust and gas on a specific star system called 49 Ceti.

Jesse Lieman-Sifry uses data to model the dust and gas on a specific star system called 49 Ceti. 49 Ceti is visible to the naked eye.

Planets form in disks of gas and dust left over from the formation of a star. For gas planets, such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, a massive rocky core must solidify before accumulation of gas can begin.

“In the 10 million years we assume it takes this rocky core to form, most of the gas has been blown away by the energy from the hot central star. This would suggest that it is very hard to form gas planets, as the timeline for these processes don’t line up,” Lieman-Sifry explained. “Something about this picture isn’t quite right though, as the planet-hunting Kepler mission has revealed that gas planets are actually very common around other stars in the Milky Way.”

Lieman-Sifry is working with high resolution data collected from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The data, provided from radio interferometers, 

Hughes Finds Magnetic Fields in Stardust; Study Published in Nature

Assistant professor of Astronomy Meredith Hughes and eight colleagues have found evidence of magnetic fields in stardust – an indication that magnetic fields are important in the process of planetary system formation, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

The discovery is another step in work by Hughes and other astronomers to understand how celestial bodies are formed. It is known that magnetic fields in the “accretion disks” of stars play a dominant role in the star formation process.

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Using data from an observatory near Bishop, Calf., Hughes and her colleagues were able to spot signs of magnetic fields in the dust of the disk of a star about 300 light years away. While magnetic fields have been detected in regions that represent the very earliest stages of star formation (the so-called Class 0 and Class I stages), this is the first time they have been seen around a star with an older age closer to when we believe planetary systems form.

“This is an important result,” Hughes said. “It’s the first time that we’ve seen magnetic fields this late in the process of star and planet formation. And like any good scientific result, when you find something new it opens up whole new sets of questions we can ask.”

In fact, Hughes said the astronomers did not expect the results they got. “I honestly didn’t think it was going to work – we had been trying so long with Class II sources and hadn’t found anything,” she said. “But I thought, we might as well try this last source that is just a little younger than most Class II sources. You want to try everything you can – but it was really a surprise when it worked.”

The paper, “Spatially resolved magnetic field structure in the disk of a T Tauri star,” was published Oct. 22. Nature is the world’s most highly-cited interdisciplinary science publication. The 145-year-old journal is published weekly.

Solar Storms a Wake-Up Call, Redfield Says

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This NASA image shows a solar storm in early 2012.

A July NASA report that a huge solar storm narrowly missed Earth in 2012 – avoiding catastrophic damage to energy, transportation and communications systems – has caused a media stir and some worry among Earthlings.

What’s more, other recent reports say that Earth is overdue for a devastating storm of the kind known as a “Carrington event” after an 1859 storm that disrupted telegraph signals and caused other damage in a still-nascent industrial world. Named for 19th-century English astronomer Richard Carrington, it was the largest of its kind on record. A similar event now, in a world dependent on digital communications and electrical energy, would cause widespread, long-lasting power outages and disrupt transportation and communications planet-wide. Eric Mack, a science blogger for Forbes, referred facetiously to a reversion to “Amish-style” civilization.

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, says the recent near-miss isn’t a cause for worldwide freakout, but should be a wake-up call; while a catastrophic solar storm may be several generations away, “it’s going to happen,” and scientists should be working on ways to better predict the event.

“I think it’s really important for us to understand what’s going on and have some good perspective on that because if we don’t prepare for it, we’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said. “We don’t need a Manhattan-style project and (to) devote 10 percent of our GDP to this one. But we do need to pay attention.”

Singer ’15 to Study Moon Rocks as Connecticut Space Grant Fellow

Jack Singer '15 holds a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12039,3), a crucial sample for studying his mineral of interest — apatite — on the moon.

Jack Singer ’15 holds a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12039,3), a crucial sample for studying his mineral of interest — apatite — on the moon. This summer, Singer received a Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium grant to fund his summer research in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

As a recent recipient of an undergraduate research fellowship, Jack Singer ’15 is spending his summer at Wesleyan studying the geochemical evolution of the moon. 

The fellowship, supported by the Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium, comes with a $5,000 award. Grantees are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

By using a microscope in Wesleyan's Solar Systems Geochemistry Lab, Jack Singer takes a closer look at a Lunar sample.

By using a microscope in Wesleyan’s Solar Systems Geochemistry Lab, Jack Singer takes a closer look at a lunar sample.

For the next three months, Singer will work on various research projects with his advisor James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental science. Singer will first prepare a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12035,76) for analysis under an ion microprobe. An ion microprobe applies a beam of charged ions to the sample and helps determine the composition of the material.

This rock contains olivine, a mineral that is mysteriously sparse in many different lunar samples.

“By analyzing the melt inclusions contained within olivine in this rock, I’ll be able to better understand geochemical evolution of the moon,” Singer said.

Singer’s second project is more experimental. He’s attempting to model and quantify diffusion in a late-stage lunar environment (one of the last regions to cool on the moon) by synthesizing a granite-rich model lunar glass.

Singer will heat this glass past its melting point and place it in contact with solid terrestrial apatite — the Moon’s major water-bearing mineral — and measure how elements diffuse across the glass-grain (or solid-liquid) boundary.

Jack Singer and his advisor, James Greenwood, will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

Jack Singer and his advisor, James Greenwood, will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

“This type of analysis helps us to better understand the processes that occurred during the last stages of lunar cooling,” he explained.

In addition, Singer and Greenwood will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

“This machine allows us to analyze and measure stable isotope ratios in the minerals we are interested in, and can therefore tell us something about the fractionation and geochemical history of the lunar body,” Singer said.

Next fall, Singer will write about his research findings.

Kopac, Herbst, Martinez MA ’13 Attend Space Telescope Science Institute Symposium

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.

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.

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.

Hughes Receives NSF Grant for Research on Planetary Systems

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

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:

http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2014/03/06/hughesscience/
http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2013/05/26/hughes/

NASA Supports Greenwood’s Research on the Moon’s Water

James “Jim” Greenwood

James “Jim” Greenwood

Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James “Jim” Greenwood has received a $331,000 grant from NASA to support his research on the moon’s water.

His proposed research, tracking water in rock samples brought back by the Apollo missions, will “take a giant leap towards solving one of the most important questions in planetary science – whether the Moon is wet or dry,” Greenwood said.

“We’ll be studying pockets of glass trapped in early and late-crystallizing minerals in lunar mare basalt samples,” Greenwood said. “We will measure water and other volatile elements in these trapped melt pockets to reconstruct the volatile history of the samples as they cooled and crystallized near the lunar surface.”

The NASA grant is part of NASA’s Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research program.

Greenwood intends to use the grant, which will be distributed over four fiscal years, to fund one Wesleyan undergraduate per summer to conduct research in his lab. The grant will also allow Greenwood to do critical measurement work at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

This project is only the latest initiative in Greenwood’s intensive work on lunar rocks, and the Moon’s relative wetness. Most recently he and four colleagues co-authored a paper in the prestigious journal Science, casting doubt on the theory of abundant lunar water, while simultaneously boosting theories around the Moon’s creation, several billion years ago.

 

Redfield on Exoplanets and the Local Interstellar Medium

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.

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Greenwood, Colleagues Debunk Sloshy Lunar Theory

James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, studies the potential of water on the moon.

James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, studies the potential of water on the moon.

James “Jim” Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and four colleagues have published a paper that casts doubt on the theory of abundant water on the moon while simultaneously boosting theories around the creation of the moon, several billion years ago.

The paper, “The Lunar Apatite Paradox,” published March 20 in the prestigious journal Science, stems from work involving the mineral apatite, the most abundant phosphate in the solar system. (Along with its presence on planets, it’s found in teeth and bones.)

Initial work on the lunar rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo missions indicated that the Moon was extremely dry. Any evidence of water was dismissed as contamination from Earth.

But more recent experiments have shown the presence of plenty of water in grains of apatite derived from lunar rocks. Greenwood and colleagues sought to figure out whether, or how that could be.

“We formulated a solution to the problem of how you get this much water into moon apatite by using a mathematical model,” Greenwood said.

Gilmore, Greenwood, Martin ’14, Dottin ’13 Attend Planetary Science Conference

At left, James Dottin '13 and Peter Martin '14 reunited at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March. Both presented papers at the annual conference.

At left, James Dottin ’13 and Peter Martin ’14 reunited at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March. Both presented papers at the annual conference.

Two faculty, one student and one alumnus made paper presentations at the 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Tex., March 17-21.

The Planetary Science Conference brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology and astronomy to present the latest results of research in planetary science. The five-day conference included topical symposia and problem-oriented sessions. During the conference, Marty Gilmore, chair and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, presented a paper on the “Venus Exploration Roadmap to the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG)” on March 20.

James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, presented “Hydrogen Isotopes of Water in the Moon: Evidence for the Giant Impact Model from Melt Inclusion and Apatite in Apollo Rock Samples,” on March 19.

Peter Martin '14 presented a poster titled "Modeling and Mineralogical Analyses of Potential Martian Chloride Brines."

Peter Martin ’14 presented a poster titled “Modeling and Mineralogical Analyses of Potential Martian Chloride Brines.”

Peter Martin ’14 presented his research on “Modeling and Mineralogical Analyses of Potential Martian Chloride Brines” on March 20.  Martin’s travel to the conference was funded by a Connecticut Space Grant and a USRA Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship Award. Gilmore is Martin’s advisor.

James Dottin ’13, who is currently a Ph.D. student in geology at the University of Maryland,  spoke on “Isotope Evidence for Links between Sulfate Assimilation and Oxidation of Martian melts from Meteorites MIL 03346, MIL 090030, MIL 090032 and MIL 090136″ on March 21.  While at Wesleyan, Dottin participated in the McNair Program. Greenwood was Dotton’s advisor.

Gilmore also presented a paper on “Are Martian Carbonates Hiding in Plain Sight? VNIR Spectra of Hydrous Carbonates,” which was co-authored by Patrick Harner MA ’13. Harner is a Ph.D. student at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Harner completed this research while a student at Wesleyan.

Gilmore to Present Research before Film Screening in Hartford

Marty Gilmore

Marty Gilmore will present her research in Hartford on April 8.

Marty Gilmore, associate professor of earth and environmental studies, will present her work with the MARS Rover missions on Tuesday, April 8 at the final Science of Screen of the year.

The monthly Science on Screen events pair local scientists with screenings of popular movies. Gilmore’s presentation of her research will begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a screening of Mission to Mars.

Gilmore’s primary research involves using images of the surface of Mars and Venus to interpret geological processes and history. For example, her research includes searching for clues regarding where and when there might have been water on Mars. She is also interested in the future of planetary exploration: how to bring back soil samples from Mars and Venus and using artificial intelligence to improve the capabilities of the Mars Rovers.

The presentation and screening will take place at Real Art Ways at 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, Conn. For more information, visit the website.

NASA Grant Supports Herbst’s Observations with Spitzer Space Telescope

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.