Tag Archive for planetary

Armandroff ’82 Announced as McDonald Observatory Director

Taft Armandroff ’82

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.”

Redfield Speaks about Magnetic Polarity Flipping on WNPR

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield

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.

Astronomy Students Speak at KNAC Research Symposium

Wesleyan astronomy students traveled to Vassar College Oct. 26-27 for the 24th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium.  KNAC is a group of eight colleges in New Jersey, New York and New England that have collaborated for decades to bring enhanced summer research opportunities to their students. Pictured are the 85 students and faculty who attended the conference.

Wesleyan astronomy students traveled to Vassar College Oct. 26-27 for the 24th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium. KNAC is a group of eight colleges in New Jersey, New York and New England that have collaborated for decades to bring enhanced summer research opportunities to their students. Pictured are the 85 students and faculty who attended the conference.

3 International Fulbright Scholars Studying at Wesleyan

Janette Suherli

Janette Suherli

Fulbright Fellow Janette Suherli could attend graduate school anywhere in the world, but the Indonesian resident decided to persue her master’s degree in astronomy here at Wesleyan.

“I learned about Wesleyan when I was in high school, and now I’m here because the Astronomy Department offers a great research program with well-known faculty members. The research and learning environment encourages me to be better everyday,” she said.

Suherli, who came to Wesleyan this fall, is one of three international Fulbright recipients who chose to complete their graduate studies at Wesleyan. Christine May Yong of Malaysia, plans to be at Wesleyan four to six years working on a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. And Cristohper Ramos Flores of Mexico started his graduate studies in 2012. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in music composition.

A mainstay of America’s public-diplomacy efforts, the Fulbright Foreign Student Program brings citizens of other countries to the United States for master’s degree or Ph.D. study at U.S. universities.

Martin ’14 Receives Scholarship For Martian Brine Research

Peter Martin ’14 accepts a scholarship award from Martha Gilmore, chair and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Peter Martin ’14 accepts a scholarship award from Martha Gilmore, chair and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

By examining highly-detailed satellite images, researchers can spot small channels formed on the sides of craters on Mars. These channels may be evidence of flowing water on Mars.

In the Gilmore lab, crystals have formed in Peter Martin's samples. "I've yet to run analysis on these specific crystals, so I can't tell you precisely what they are, but my best guess would be that they are a hydrated iron sulfate," he said.

In the Gilmore lab, crystals have formed in Peter Martin’s samples. “I’ve yet to run analysis on these specific crystals, so I can’t tell you precisely what they are, but my best guess would be that they are a hydrated iron sulfate,” he said.

Since scientists don’t exactly know what the surface of Mars is composed of, Wesleyan student Peter Martin ’14 created a modeling program that can simulate the kinds of salty water, or brine, solutions that would possibly form on Mars. For his efforts, Martin was awarded the Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship Award. The $1,500 prize is given annually by the Universities Space Research Association in honor of the former Lunar and Planetary Institute Director, and is among five scholarship awards presented by the USRA.

Martin, who was selected from 21 applicants, is completing his Martian brine research in the planetary lab of Martha Gilmore, chair and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

After developing a modeling program, Martin created actual brines in the lab, and let them evaporate. The salts left behind formed various minerals including sylvite and halite. Martin uses X-ray diffraction (XRD) and visible/near-infrared spectroscopy (VNIR) to analyze the resulting evaporites. Analyses are ongoing, and Martin hopes to identify more minerals.

“The brines tell us a lot about Mars’ surface composition, mineralogy, and even hydrology,” he said.

After graduating, Martin plans to study planetary science education in graduate school.

For more information on the scholarship, see this link.

#THISISWHY

 

Redfield Receives NSF Grant for Exoplanet Atmosphere Research

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, won a three-year grant for $341,039 from the National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants program to fund his research on “Accessing Atmospheric Properties of Terrestrial Exoplanets: Ground-Based Observations of Rayleigh Scattering and Extended Atmospheres.” The grant was awarded in August 2013.

Study by Redfield, Wyman MA ’11 Published in Astrophysical Journal, Forbes

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, and Katy Wyman MA ’11, recently co-authored a paper that will appear in the Aug. 10 Astrophysical Journal, detailing several hundred spectral line measurements out to bright stars within 326 light years of our sun. Wyman is now employed at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The study also appeared in the July 28 edition of Forbes in an article titled “Looking In The Sun’s Rear-View Mirror: A New Map Of The Local Interstellar Medium.”

The first comprehensive map of the local interstellar medium — the gas drifting between the nearest stars — “will not only help theorists better understand the dynamics of our tiny swath of the galaxy, but represents the first crucial step in paving the way for interstellar travel,” the article reports.

Redfield, Wyman and their colleagues made their primary observations through the Hubble Space Telescope, the McDonald Observatory in Texas and the Australian Astronomical Observatory in New South Wales. Redfield says the plan is to publish a revised morphological model in the next six months.

Read the Forbes article online here.

Gomes ’06 Published in June Geology Journal

Maya Gomes '06 working on her research.

Maya Gomes ’06 working on her research.”

Maya Gomes ’06 and her co-author Matthew Hurtgen published their paper, “Sulfur isotope systematics in a permanently euxinic, low-sulfate lake: Evaluating the importance of the reservoir effect in modern and ancient oceans,” in the June issue of the journal, Geology. In the paper, the authors present data that shows how geologists can use sulfur isotope compositions of marine sediments to discover variations in oceanic sulfate levels through Earth history.

Gomes explained that the paper is very important to researchers who study the climate of the past because “marine sulfate levels play a role in regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the ocean-atmosphere system, which has implications for habitability and climate.”

Maya Gomes

Maya Gomes

“I fell in love with geology and research when I was an earth and environmental science major at Wes,” she said.

Gomes wants to share her work with the Wesleyan community because she hopes that it will show that the strong foundation she received in science while attending Wesleyan University has allowed her to “pursue high quality research as a PhD student.

“My thesis adviser at Wesleyan was [Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences] Marty Gilmore,” Gomes notes. “She served as an excellent mentor to me while at Wes and beyond.  However, I was also advised by and heavily influenced by many other members of the department, including Professors Johan Varekamp, Jim Greenwood, and Suzanne O’Connell.”

The paper is online here.

Hughes Studies Formation, Evolution of Planetary Systems

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

(Contributed by Jim Smith)

Meredith Hughes was one of those kids drawn to science and nature. But growing up in small-town Rhode Island, she didn’t know any scientists.

“The people I knew who liked science were teachers and doctors,” recalled Hughes, a new assistant professor of astronomy at Wesleyan this year. “So I figured that’s probably what I’d be.”

Then, during her junior year of high school, a patient of her mother, a women’s health nurse practitioner, recommended a program for budding scientists called The Summer Science Program (SSP). Hughes applied, and became one of 25 students from around the world to spend the summer under the pristine skies of Ojai, California. “We spent the summer determining the orbit of 4 Vesta, the second largest object in the Asteroid Belt,” she said. “It was my first exposure to professional scientists and real research, and by the time the summer was over I had begun to think that maybe a career in science wasn’t such a crazy idea.”

Little more than a year later, she was enrolled at Yale. Despite the inroads into astrophysics she had made at SSP, she embraced the philosophy of a liberal arts education and spent her freshman year avoiding astronomy and instead exploring fields as diverse as cognitive science and music theory. During the summer  she had an opportunity to stay in New Haven and do astronomical research with Professor Meg Urry, director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Hughes found it exhilarating to apply the physics she had learned in the classroom to investigating the properties of the supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies.

“After that summer, I was hooked,” she said. She went on to complete A.M.  and Ph.D. degrees in astronomy at Harvard in 2007 and 2010, earning the department’s Fireman Fellowship for an outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the field of experimental astrophysics.

After Harvard, she accepted a postdoctoral fellowship with the Miller Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. Former Miller Fellows have included Nobel laureates and Fields medalists, but Hughes says she was most excited to follow in the footsteps of former Miller Fellow Carl Sagan. “His career was exemplary in combining a deep understanding of research with an incredible gift at communicating his knowledge and passion to non-scientists, which is a combination I strive to emulate,” Hughes said. She was at Berkeley when she learned about the opening at Wesleyan that offered what she said was “exactly the balance of teaching and research I was looking for.”

New Radio Telescope to Benefit Astronomy Research

A new telescope at Van Vleck Observatory saw its first light on May 1. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by staff and students of the Astronomy Department and the Science Machine Shop.

Astronomy students and faculty celebrated the completion of a new small radio telescope (SRT) on May 1 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. This is Wesleyan’s first radio telescope, joining three optical telescopes housed at the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Radio telescopes are highly complementary to optical telescopes. Able to see through cloud cover, they are not limited by weather. Also, in a "radio sky," the remnants of exploding stars and distant supermassive black holes shine brightly.

Radio telescopes are highly complementary to optical telescopes. Able to see through cloud cover, they are not limited by weather. Also, in a “radio sky,” the remnants of exploding stars and distant supermassive black holes shine brightly.

Going forward it will allow Wesleyan students to detect more remote radio sources, map galactic rotation and conduct other kinds of astronomical research. It will be an essential tool in the university’s astronomy courses.

This fall, the SRT will allow Wesleyan students and faculty to detect remote radio sources, map galactic rotation and conduct other kinds of astronomical research. It will be an essential tool in the university’s astronomy courses.

Astronomy students and faculty celebrated the new small radio telescope (SRT) on May 1 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The SRT has a motorized arm that can position the dish to face any part of the sky. Quasars, pulsars, and the afterglow of the Big Bang have all been discoveries of radio astronomy.

The SRT has a motorized arm that can position the dish to face any part of the sky. Quasars, pulsars, and the afterglow of the Big Bang have all been discoveries of radio astronomy.

Students enrolled in Assistant Professor Meredith Hughes' Radio Astronomy Class created the functional radio telescope in one semester. They followed design specifications for a small radio telescope developed by Alan Rogers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.

Students enrolled in Assistant Professor Meredith Hughes’ Radio Astronomy Class created the functional radio telescope in one semester. They followed design specifications for a small radio telescope developed by Alan Rogers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory. Wesleyan is the first university to assemble a SRT from upgraded system plans published by Haystack.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, divided her class into three teams, each of which was responsible for a different part of the telescope. Each team would work separately, acquiring and assembling the components for its part of the telescope.

Hughes, pictured directing the satellite through a computer, divided her class into three teams. Each team was responsible for acquiring and assembling the components for different sections of the telescope.

Of the 10 astronomers who have received Nobel prizes in astronomy, six used radio telescopes in their research.

Of the 10 astronomers who have received Nobel prizes in astronomy, six used radio telescopes in their research.

Classmates, with the help of Astronomy Department faculty, used the new device to detect the sun.

Classmates, with the help of Astronomy Department faculty, used the new device to detect the sun during a “First Light” celebration.

Redfield Invited Speaker at Extrasolar Planets Conference in Germany

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, spoke on “Properties of the Interstellar Medium Surrounding the Sun and Nearby Stars” during a conference held March 11-15 in the Physikzentrum in Bad Honnef, Germany.

The conference, which was 527th in a series, was sponsored by the Wilhelm und Else Heraeus Stiftung, a German foundation that supports scientific research and education. The topic of the conference was “Plasma and Radiation Environment in Astrospheres and Implications for the Habitability of Extrasolar Planets.”