Tag Archive for Astronomy Department
by Olivia Drake •
Arthur Reinhold Upgren, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, died on Jan. 21, a month before his 84th birthday.
Upgren received his PhD from Case Western Reserve University before coming to Wesleyan as an assistant professor in 1966. He was the Director of the Van Vleck Observatory from 1973 to 1993. He held his endowed chair from 1982 until his retirement in 2000.
Upgren was an author or co-author of 285 publications in the astronomical literature, including one that appeared in 2016. His research interests were in the areas of parallax (distance measurement) of stars and galactic structure. For several decades, he directed an NSF-funded study that made use of the 20-inch Clark refractor on the Wesleyan campus to establish the first rung on the ladder of distances in the Universe.
Upgren friend Jim Gutmann, professor of earth and environmental sciences, emeritus, said, “Art was an avid reader, loved classical music and foreign travel, and could be counted on to provide explanations of many matters astrometric and meteorological.”
In addition to his work on galactic astronomy, Upgren had a keen interest in protecting the night sky from light pollution. He wrote a well-reviewed popular book titled The Turtle and the Stars that discussed the influence of light pollution on the breeding habits of leatherback turtles. He was an active member of the International Dark-Sky Association and a tireless advocate for intelligent lighting on the Wesleyan campus.
Upgren is survived by his wife, Joan, his daughter Amy and her husband, and his two grandchildren, Max and Ella.
A memorial event will be planned for the future.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Wesleyan Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and astronomy student Julia Zachary ’17 recently reported at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on their research using data from the Hubble Space Telescope combined with two Voyager spacecraft probes, both very long-lived and successful NASA missions. The findings were shared in dozens of news outlets from the U.S. to India to Afghanistan.
According to Nature.com, “The work is a rare marriage of two of the most famous space missions — and an unprecedented glimpse at the realm between the stars.”
“If the Voyager spacecraft and the Google Street View car are going around your neighborhood taking pictures on the street, then Hubble is providing the overview, the road map for the Voyagers on their trip through interstellar space,” Zachary said at a press conference held Jan. 6.
Astronomers have used instruments such as Hubble to obtain indirect measurements of the material in interstellar space. But the Voyager probes are giving them a direct taste of this mysterious environment, sending back data on the electron density of their surroundings. “As an astronomer, I’m not used to having measurements from the place I’m observing,” Redfield said.
SpaceDaily.com reports: “A preliminary analysis of the Hubble observations reveals a rich, complex interstellar ecology, containing multiple clouds of hydrogen laced with other elements. Hubble data, combined with the Voyagers, have also provided new insights into how our sun travels through interstellar space.”
“This is a great opportunity to compare data from in situ measurements of the space environment by the Voyager spacecraft and telescopic measurements by Hubble,” said study leader Seth Redfield of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
“The Voyagers are sampling tiny regions as they plow through space at roughly 38,000 miles per hour. But we have no idea if these small areas are typical or rare. The Hubble observations give us a broader view because the telescope is looking along a longer and wider path. So Hubble gives context to what each Voyager is passing through.”
Read more at Astronomy.com, The Indian Express, EarthSky.org and International Business Times. See photos of Zachary at the press conference on the American Astronomical Society’s website. A press release can be found on HubbleSite.
Redfield also is associate professor of integrative sciences.
Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy; Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology; Wilson Cauley, a post-doctoral fellow; and Nicole Arulanantham MA ’15 are the co-authors of a paper forthcoming in The Astrophysical Journal.
The paper is based on Arulanantham’s thesis research at Wesleyan. The paper also was featured in the December newsletter of the Gemini Observatory, an international observatory based in Hawaii and Chile.
“The subject of the paper, a star known as KH 15D, was recognized as an important and interesting object in the 1990s through observations made on the Wesleyan campus by undergraduate and graduate students,” Herbst explained.
Arulanantham earned a master’s degree in astronomy and is now a graduate student in the astronomy department at the University of Colorado Boulder.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Four Wesleyan undergraduate students have received grants from NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.
Astronomy major Hannah Fritze ’18 was awarded $5,000 for an Undergraduate Research Fellowship Grant titled, “Searching for Intermediate Mass Black Holes in Ultraluminous X-ray Binaries.” This grant will support her research this coming semester on black holes with Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy.
Avi Stein ’17, who is majoring in astronomy, was awarded $1,000 for a Student Travel Grant. He will be presenting his research on Venus—conducted with Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences—at the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in March.
Rami Hamati ’19 and David Machado ’18 each received a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship. According to Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, these scholarships are awarded to students who show promise as a major in a STEM field related to NASA’s mission.
by Olivia Drake •
by Frederic Wills '19 •
Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, is the co-author of “Debris Disks in the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association Resolved by Alma,” published in The Astrophysical Journal, Vo. 828, No. 1. Jesse Lieman-Sifry ’15 also is a co-author of the article.
In addition, the international weekly journal of science Nature mentioned the article in a Sept. 8 publication.
The co-authors explored the idea of carbon-monoxide potentially being in large-star disks. As explained in her abstract, “Stars twice the size of the sun can feature carbon-monoxide-rich gas disks around them, contrary to the expectation that ultraviolet radiation would have stripped away the gas.”
Hughes used the “Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in northern Chile to probe the regions around 24 young star systems, only about 5 million to 10 million years old. They chose stars surrounded by a disk of dust debris—resembling a scaled-up version of the Solar System’s Kuiper belt—this leftover material could form new planets, including gas giants.
In conclusion, the researchers noted that three of the larger stars in the sample had strong carbon monoxide emissions.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
On June 16, the Astronomy Department hosted the Van Vleck Observatory Centennial Symposium: A Celebration of Astronomy at Wesleyan University. Wesleyan’s observatory has been celebrating its centennial during the 2015-16 academic year, with a series of events and an exhibition, “Under Connecticut Skies.”
The symposium was co-sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford (ASGH), and held in conjunction with StarConn.
The exhibition was spearheaded by Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, and Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history. At the meeting, they discussed the exhibition, which was developed by a team of faculty, students and staff using the observatory’s extensive collection of scientific instruments, teaching materials, photographs, drawings and correspondence to illustrate the changes in astronomical research and teaching over the past century. Located in Van Vleck’s library, the exhibition is semi-permanent and open to the public for viewing when the building is open.
In addition, University Archivist Leith Johnson created an exhibition in Olin Library titled, “A Stellar Education: Astronomy at Wesleyan, 1831-1916.” It is available for viewing through October.
The day-long event included guests speakers discussing topics in the full range of professional and amateur astronomy. Talks were given by many members of Wesleyan’s astronomy department and other departments, past and present.
The event concluded with a gala reception and re-dedication ceremony of the Van Vleck Observatory. Guests viewed the restored 20-inch refractor telescope.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
The Hartford Courant featured the 100th anniversary of Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory, which will be celebrated with an exhibit and a series of events this month and next. The “Under Connecticut Skies” exhibit, located in the observatory library, will open May 6 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will remain open indefinitely during the observatory’s public hours.
Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history, who has been working on the exhibit since last year, said the Van Vleck Observatory and the astronomy department building are part of the exhibit, telling the story of how astronomers did their work 100 years ago.
“One of the things most interesting to me as a historian of science is that this building itself is our most important artifact we’re interpreting in this exhibit,” she said. “The way it’s organized really reflects the way astronomy happened in the early part of the 20th century. There was a period when astronomical data was not series of numbers or something electronic. The raw data was pieces of glass, negative images of the sky, and we have 40,000 in the basement.”
Williams and students have been gathering oral history accounts and making videos to document the historical significance of the artifacts and research.
“Astronomy is historical in and of itself,” Williams said. “It deals with issues of time. When you look into a telescope you’re looking back in time, and that makes the act of observing a historical act as well as a scientific one.”
Learn more about the exhibit, the 100th anniversary re-dedication on June 16, and other planned events here.
by Olivia Drake •
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory is celebrating its centennial this spring, with a series of events and an exhibition beginning in early May.
On May 6, the observatory’s library will reopen to the public with an exhibition on the history of astronomy at Van Vleck. Developed by a team of faculty, students, and staff, the exhibition will use the observatory’s extensive collection of scientific instruments, teaching materials, photographs, drawings, and correspondence to illustrate both the changes in astronomical research and teaching over the past century, and the observatory’s consistent mission of conducting instruction and research under the same roof. The exhibition will incorporate the history of science into Van Vleck’s existing public outreach programs through period lectures, demonstrations of historic artifacts, and gallery talks.
The exhibition was spearheaded by Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history, and Paul Erickson, associate professor of history, associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of science in society.
More events are planned in the run-up to the exhibition opening. On May 1, the Wesleyan Orchestra will hold a concert featuring astronomically themed music, including John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis, which was composed using star charts from the Van Vleck Observatory library. On May 3, Special Collections & Archives will host an exhibition, “A Stellar Education: Astronomy at Wesleyan, 1831-1916.” Located on the first floor of Olin Library, the exhibition documents the study of astronomy at Wesleyan from the university’s opening through the construction of the Van Vleck Observatory. On May 4, the History Department is hosting David DeVorkin, senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum, who will give a talk situating Van Vleck in the history of American observatories.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Award-winning science fiction writer Jack McDevitt MALS ’71 received an out-of-this-world honor: Lowell Observatory astronomer named an asteroid for him.
In an e-mail, astronomer Lawrence Wasserman, explained, “I discovered the books of Jack McDevitt early in 2015 and spent most of the year plowing through every novel he has written. I was especially taken by his naming the first Mars spaceship for Percival Lowell, our founder. And, as a person who spent their teens in the ’60s reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, I was very pleased to find someone who writes science fiction that doesn’t have any elves, dwarfs, or magic swords but gets back to spaceships and time travel.”
Wasserman, who notes his specific interest in asteroids and the Kuiper Belt (a region of the solar system beyond Neptune’s orbit that contains many small orbiting bodies), has discovered around 50 asteroids.
“The International Astronomical Union regulates the naming of these objects (they’re the same ones who demoted Pluto),” he says. “The rules say that the discoverer gets to name the asteroid and that becomes the official name for all astronomers to use.”
Wasserman had named asteroids in honor of his parents, son, and high school physics teacher. Then, “Since Jack McDevitt chose to honor our observatory’s founder, Percival Lowell, in one of his books, I wanted to return the favor and name an asteroid for him.”
The astronomer and the author have exchanged a few e-mails. Wasserman sent McDevitt a photograph of asteroid Jackmcdevitt, as well as one of the asteroid Larissa, which was mentioned in McDevitt’s novel, Coming Home, set in the 12th millennium.
McDevitt, whose newest novel, Thunderbird, was released in December, adds: “Professor Wasserman sent me a list of names provided for asteroids during the past two months. They included mostly scientists, a few literary characters out of Greek mythology, some historical people, a few cities, Tina Fey, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan. And, finally, me. They’ve put me in pretty decent company.