News from the Department (2017)

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May 2017

  • We're sorry to report the passing of Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Michael A'Hearn on May 29, 2017. Mike was a wonderful friend, mentor, and colleague to so many in our astronomy department and everywhere. He was a leader of the department's Small Bodies Group and one of the most respected and admired planetary scientists in the world. He will be deeply missed. (For a sample of his work, see his recent review article Comets: Looking Ahead. The Washington Post has his obituary.)

April 2017

  • Assistant Research Scientist Dennis Bodewits was honored with an asteroid named after him (10033 Bodewits) at the international 'asteroids, comets, and meteroids' meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, for his observations of comets and asteroids with the Swift satellite. Swift featured a write up on their website. Congrats!
  • Research Scientist Tony Farnham is featured in a new Science@NASA video about three comets (41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, and 46P/Wirtanen) that will pass near the Earth in 2017 and 2018. The Department's Small Bodies Group is studying these comets in partnership with amateur astronomers, and the group is also hosting a website that provides a central clearinghouse of information about the comets.
  • 75,000 visitors visited the UMD campus for Maryland Day on Apr. 29, braving the near-record heat! The department entertained and informed visitors with solar telescopes, information about the Aug. 2017 solar eclipse, and our "Fingerprinting the Universe" and "Ask an Astronomer" booths. The AstroTerps student club gave excellent demos on topics such as cratering by asteroids. Thanks so much to all of our volunteers (too many to name here, alas!), especially Elizabeth Warner for her hard work in coordinating the department's participation.
  • Principal Senior Lecturer and Undergraduate Adviser Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, graduate student Krista Smith, and Assistant Professor Suvi Gezari were all individually honored by the Board of Visitor's Awards and the CMNS Dean's Awards for 2017. The CMNS Board of Visitors have established and funded four awards: The Distinguished Faculty Award, the Creative Educator Award, The Junior Faculty Award, and the Outstanding Graduate Student Award. The winners of these awards are selected by the Board from nominations submitted by our department chairs and unit directors.
  • NASA selected Prof. Richard Mushotzky's proposed AXIS space mission as one of ten highly-rated "Astrophysics Probes" mission concepts that are funded for an 18-month comprehensive study. If selected by the 2020 Decadal Review and NASA these probes will the first in a new class of astrophysics missions with anticipated budgets of $400M to $1B. AXIS would be a high spatial resolution X-ray telescope that will greatly improve our understanding of the high energy universe.
  • Amy Steele has been awarded a Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship for Summer 2017. Summer Research Fellowships provide support to doctoral students at mid-career, that is, in the period approximately before, during, or after achievement of candidacy. This is the companion program to the Wylie Dissertation Fellowships.
  • Graduate student Dana Louie has won an NSF/JSPS jointly sponsored East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) Fellowship to conduct research in Japan this summer. Dana will work with Professor Motohide Tamura and Assistant Professor Norio Narita at University of Tokyo, where she will perform simulations to predict the efficacy of the Japanese-developed MuSCAT instrument to validate exoplanets discovered by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

March 2017

  • A study by Valeria Cottini has been accepted into NASA's Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) program. This program aims "to develop mission concepts using small satellites to investigate Venus, Earth's moon, asteroids, Mars and the outer planets." Cottini's project is listed as follows: "CubeSat UV Experiment (CUVE), a 12-unit CubeSat orbiter to measure ultraviolet absorption and nightglow emissions to understand Venus' atmospheric dynamics." For more details, click here.
  • Dr. Dennis Bodewits and other team members in our Small Bodies Group (Drs. Mike Kelley, Silvia Protopapa, and Tony Farnham) were awarded a large program of 144 hours of observing time through the new NOAO Las Cumbres time-domain collaboration. They will observe comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak every 48 hours, following up on its outbursts with more frequent observations. This will also serve as a pilot program for anticipated ZTF and LSST observations in the future.
  • Undergrad Chris Bambic has won a Goldwater Scholarship. The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, encourages students to pursue advanced study and careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. FOr more about this story, see the CMNS press release.
  • NASA/Goddard has awarded the 5-year CRESST II cooperative agreement to a team of universities led by the University of Maryland. CRESST (the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology) brings together Goddard researchers and university scientists to build upon the many capabilities and strengths in space science of the participating organizations. Approximately 45 scientists are employed by our department and based at Goddard through the current agreement, which CRESST II will replace starting April 1. CRESST provides many graduate and undergraduate students with opportunities to do important, cutting-edge research and instrumentation work at Goddard. This is a big win for our department and for UMD!
  • Undergraduate student Emily Garhart won one of the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.Twenty-four UMD students were among the 2,000 fellowship winners announced by NSF. Of those, 10 hailed from CMNS, including four current graduate students, four current undergraduate students, and two alumni who received bachelor's degrees in CMNS majors. For more information, see the CMNS announcement.
  • Graduate student Arnab Dhabal has won an Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship for his research work. The Graduate School fellowship is a one-semester award intended to support outstanding doctoral students who are in the final stages of writing their dissertation and whose primary source of support is unrelated to their dissertation. Wylie Fellowships carry a stipend of $15,000 plus candidacy tuition remission and $800 toward the cost of health insurance.
  • Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Silvia Protopapa is on the Exploration Science Pathfinder Research for Enhancing Solar System Observations (ESPRESSO) team which was selected by NASA to "characterize target surfaces and mitigating hazards that create risk for robotic and human explorers in our solar system. ESPRESSO will work to assess the geotechnical and thermomechanical properties of target body surfaces to help us understand and predict hazards like landslides, and to improve our understanding of impact ejecta dynamics." Dr. Protopapa is leading the optical constants data analysis and Planetary Data System (PDS) archiving efforts.
  • Congratulations to Michael A'Hearn and Dennis Bodewits, co-authors of a paper released by Science and timed to coincide with the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, titled "Surface changes on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko suggest a more active past". The study summarizes the types of surface changes observed during the two years that the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft spent investigating comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For more information, see the CMNS press release.
  • On Mar. 20-24, our department hosted ELS-XVI, "Electromagnetic and Light Scattering by Nonspherical Particles", an international conference with over 100 participants. The conference was dedicated to theoretical and laboratory studies of interaction of electromagnetic radiation with natural particles and included astronomical and geophysical applications of these studies to remote sensing of cosmic dust and planetary aerosols. Thanks go to Dr. Ludmilla Kolokolova and our staff for their efforts in organizing the meeting!
  • Undergrads Shreya Anand and Chris Bambic have won UMD Honors College Research Grants, which provide $500 for them to attend professional conferences. Shreya and Chris will be honored at the Fall 2017 Honors College Citation Ceremony on November 3, 2017 in the Memorial Chapel at 4:30pm.
  • Graduate student Mahmuda Afrin Badhan won a travel grant from NASA's Astrobiology Program and Mars Program Office to attend the 2017 Astrobiology Science Conference in Mesa, Arizona. The grant will cover most of her costs for registration, transportation, and lodging. Congratulations!
  • Assistant Research Scientist Francesco Tombesi co-authored a Nature Astronomy paper titles "Magnetic origin of black hole winds across the mass scale". In addition to the paper, there was an associate News and Views article.
  • Congrats to Anne Lohfink (Ph.D. '14), Erin Kara (Hubble Fellow), Ashley King (B.S. '09), and Chris Reynolds (Professor), and their collaborators, whose paper "Relativistically outflowing gas responds to the inner accretion disk of a black hole" was published in Nature. In this paper, astronomers observed a black hole at the center of galaxy IRAS 13224-3809 and found that the outflow's temperature was changing hundreds of times faster than previously observed. For more information, see the CMNS press release.

February 2017

  • Professor Cole Miller was quoted in a Space.com article discussing an intermediate-mass black hole found inside of a globular cluster.
  • Dr. Neil Gehrels, Chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA/Goddard, passed away on February 6, 2017. His many accomplishments and undertakings included serving as Principal Investigator for Swift, Project Scientist for WFIRST, and Deputy Project Scientist for Fermi. He was a University of Maryland College Park Professor and a good friend of the Department of Astronomy. He will be sorely missed. A memorial service will be held on Mar. 10 at 3:30pm at the UMD Memorial Chapel.
  • Assistant Professor Suvi Gezari's paper on quazars was featured in AAS Nova. She and a team of scientists discovered that quazar iPTF 16bco had "turned on" within 500 days of their observations. To read Suvi's paper, click here.

January 2017

  • Professor Michael A'Hearn was quoted in an article for Science Magazine. The article is focused on the 2 news NASA missions, Lucy and Psyche, that will be looking further into small solar system bodies.

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Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology    Joint Space-Science Center    Two intriguing investigations -- One flight-proven spacecraft    UMd Astronomy-Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Partnership    UMd Astronomy-Cote d'Azur Observatory Scientific Cooperation and Academic Exchange