Tag Archive for planetary

Graduate Student Factor Studies Planet Formation Around a Young Star

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai'i in March 2015.

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i in March 2015.

#THISISWHY
In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Sam Factor ’14, a graduate student in astronomy.

Q: Sam, congratulations on completing your master’s thesis in astronomy! We understand you took your first astronomy class in the fall of your senior year at Wesleyan. What was your undergraduate major and how did your late-developing interest in astronomy come about?

A: Thank you very much! As an undergrad, I majored in physics and computer science. During the fall of my senior year I took Introductory Astronomy (ASTR 155). I signed up for the course mainly because I wanted an interesting and relatively easy course to fill out my schedule. I had been interested in astronomy since I was very young, but had never taken a formal class. I absolutely loved the class and decided to apply to the BA/MA program.

Q: How and when did you decide to stay on at Wesleyan to pursue a master’s degree in astronomy?

A: I actually decided to apply to the BA/MA program only a few weeks before the application was due!

Seager Delivers Sturm Memorial Lecture

On April 29, Sara Seager, Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke on “The Search for Earth 2.0″ at the annual Sturm Memorial Lecture. (Photos by Dat Vu ’15)

Seager is a pioneer in the field of exoplanets, specifically in characterizing the atmospheres and searching for life on those distant worlds. Her talk addressed the age-old question: "Are we alone?"

Seager is a pioneer in the field of exoplanets, specifically in characterizing the atmospheres and searching for life on those distant worlds. Her talk addressed the age-old question: “Are we alone?”

Astronomy Department Awarded Grants for Research

Seth Redfield, astronomy professor of astronomy, campus director of the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium, reports that several students and faculty have recently been awarded grants for their research in astronomy.  Photo c/o Redfield

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, campus director of the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium, reports that several students and faculty have recently been awarded grants for their research in astronomy. (Photo c/o Redfield)

Several Wesleyan students and faculty were recently awarded grants for research by NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Program. Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy and campus director of NASA’s CT Space Grant Consortium, was excited about the number of winners.

“I was thrilled to see how successful Wesleyan was this year in getting grants through NASA’s CT Space Grant program,” wrote Redfield. “It demonstrates the diversity and quality of work we do that is aligned with NASA’s mission.”

“The grants this year support undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research, as well as special events organized by faculty at Wesleyan to promote exposure and career development in STEM fields,” explained Redfield.

Students, Faculty, Alumni Attend Planetary Science Conference in Texas

Students, faculty and alumni involved in planetary science attended the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference March 16-20 in Houston, Texas.

Jim Greenwood, assistant professor earth and environmental sciences, gave a talk titled “urCl-KREEP? Cl-rich glasses in KREEP basalts 15382 and 15386 and their implications for lunar geochemistry.” Martha Gilmore, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, met with the Venus Exploration Analysis Group as a member of its Executive Committee.

Jack Singer ’15 and Lisa Korn MA ’15 presented posters.

Several Wesleyan alumni also made presentations at the conference including James Dottin ’13 (E&ES), now a PhD student at the University of Maryland; Tanya Harrison MA ’08 (E&ES), now a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario; Ann Ollila MA ’08 (E&ES), now at Chevron; Nina Lanza MA ’06 (E&ES), now a scientist at Los Alamos National Lab; Bob Nelson MA ’69 (astronomy), senior scientist at Planetary Science Institute; Ian Garrick-Bethell ’02 (physics), assistant professor at the University of California – Santa Cruz.

Jack Singer ’15 presented a poster titled "High fluorine and chlorine in a chromite-hosted melt inclusion from Apollo 12 olivine basalt 12035.” He was supported by NASA Connecticut Space Grant and is the McKenna Scholar in E&ES. Jim Greenwood is his advisor.

Jack Singer ’15 presented a poster titled “High fluorine and chlorine in a chromite-hosted melt inclusion from Apollo 12 olivine basalt 12035.” He was supported by NASA Connecticut Space Grant and is the McKenna Scholar in E&ES. Singer’s advisor is Jim Greenwood, assistant professor earth and environmental sciences.

Lisa Korn, MA ’15 presented a poster titled "Possible Carbonate Minerals within an Unnamed Gulled Crater in Eridania Basin, Mars.”  She was supported by NASA Connecticut Space Grant and the E&ES Foye Fund. Scott Murchie, the Principal Investigator of the instrument whose data she uses (the CRISM spectrometer in orbit at Mars) showed her work to NASA as an example of the important new discoveries being made with the instrument. Korn's advisor is Marty Gilmore, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology.

Lisa Korn MA ’15 presented a poster titled “Possible Carbonate Minerals within an Unnamed Gullied Crater in Eridania Basin, Mars.” She was supported by NASA Connecticut Space Grant and the E&ES Foye Fund. Scott Murchie, the Principal Investigator of the instrument whose data she uses (the CRISM spectrometer in orbit at Mars) showed her work to NASA as an example of the important new discoveries being made with the instrument. Korn’s advisor is Martha Gilmore, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology.

E&ES major  James Dottin ’13 met Marty Gilmore at the conference.

E&ES major James Dottin ’13 met Martha Gilmore at the conference.

Astronomy Department Hosts Public Stargazing, Space Discovery Presentations

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Beginning Feb. 4, Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory will open to the public every Wednesday night, rain or shine, for presentations by faculty and students on the latest space-related discoveries, as well as a chance for everyone to view the sky through a telescope, weather permitting.

The program will start at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Presentations are intended to be accessible to visitors of all ages, although aimed primarily at high school level and above.

Paper by Gilmore, Harner MA ’13 Says Mars May Host Hydrous Carbonate Minerals

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, and her former graduate student Patrick Harner MA ’13 are the co-authors of a paper titled “Visible–near infrared spectra of hydrous carbonates, with implications for the detection of carbonates in hyperspectral data of Mars,” published in Icarus, Vol. 250, pages 204-214, April 2015.

The paper suggests that hydrous carbonate minerals might be relevant on Mars.

“We bought and made these unusual minerals in my lab and then took spectra of them to simulate what Mars orbiters might see. Carbonate minerals form in water on Earth (e.g., limestones), and are predicted for Mars, but to date are uncommon on Mars,” Gilmore explained. “We suggest this may be because Mars may host hydrous carbonates which look very different than the anhydrous carbonates everyone is looking for in the data.”

Gilmore also is chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences.

NASA Supports Greenwood’s Extraterrestrial Materials Research

James “Jim” Greenwood

Jim Greenwood

Jim Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, was awarded a Faculty Seed Research Grant from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, supported by NASA. The honor comes with a $6,000 award.

Greenwood will use the grant to support his research on “D/H of ‘Dry’ Extraterrestrial Materials.”

Understanding the distribution, delivery, and processing of volatiles in the solar system is of fundamental interest to planetary science. Volatiles influence a number of important properties of planetary bodies, such as the cooling, differentiation, volcanism, tectonism, climate, hydrosphere/atmospheres and especially habitability.

Greenwood will use the award to develop a new state-of-the-art inlet system for the measurement of hydrogen and water and their hydrogen isotope composition in nominally anhydrous extraterrestrial materials. This inlet system will work in conjunction with the Wesleyan Hydrogen Isotope Mass Spectrometer, a Thermo Delta Advantage isotope ratio mass spectrometer installed in August 2014.

With the new system in place by the end of the project period, Greenwood and fellow researchers will be in position to measure hydrogen and water in two Apollo mare basalt rock samples.

“This will increase sensitivity for water by 250x our current measurement,” Greenwood said. “The added capability will allow us to make new and exciting measurements of volatiles in important planetary materials, such as these lunar rock samples.”

Read past News @ Wesleyan stories on Greenwood here.

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.

 #THISISWHY

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 by 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

solar_storm_2012 (3)

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.