News from the Department (2018)

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September 2018

  • The Exoplanet Science Strategy report was released this month by the National Academics of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The report, co-authored by Astronomy's Eliza Kempton, examines the current and future state of exoplanet investigation and discovery. To aid in the search for earth-like planets, life, and solar systems similar to our own, the report recommends forming a direct-imaging mission to observe exoplanets. To find out more, refer to the article from the CMNS webpage and the web stream of the panel.

August 2018

  • The Astronomy news article which discusses the first and future CubeSat missions, features Dr. Valeria Cottini, assistant research scientist who is currently working on the CubeSat UV Experiment. The project intends to send a CubeSat spacecraft to investigate the atmosphere of Venus and its unexplained striations. Cubesat technology allows missions such as these to be possible under a short time scale due to its small size and cost efficient assembly. To find out more about Cottini's project and the future ventures of CubeSat technology checkout the Astronomy article.
  • Checkout the Quanta article which features Astronomy's Suvi Gezari, one of the pioneers of studying tidal disruption events to detect black holes. The article explores, in depth, the importance of these detections and scientists' growing interest in them along with Gezari's role in the field in its infancy and explosion. To find out more, see the Quanta article.
  • Congratulations to graduate student, Pradip Gatkine, who was one of three students selected for the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships. The award grants Gatkine up to $45,000 a year in support of his research on metal enrichment. By studying gamma ray bursts, Gatkine intends to reveal the source of metal accumulation and how metals are transported to the circumgalactic medium. To find out more check out the CMNS article.

July 2018

  • Check out the official CAESAR website which went live on Monday. The Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission is one of two final concepts selected for further development under NASA's New Frontiers program. If selected, a spacecraft will be designed to collect a sample from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and return it to earth. The project includes efforts from UMD scientists Dennis Bodewits and Michael Kelley who will lead the Comet Environment Working Group. Find out more about CAESAR at the newly launched website!

June 2018

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Li-Jen Chen, Naoki Bessho, Levon Avanov and Shan Wang, whose study, "Electron bulk acceleration and thermalization at Earth's quasi-perpendicular bow shock," was published in the journal Physical Review Letters on May 31, 2018.

    This study describes the first observations of the process of electron heating in Earth's bow shock--a region formed by Earth's magnetic field as it pushes through solar wind. The researchers found that when the electrons in the solar wind encounter the bow shock, they momentarily accelerate to such a high speed that the electron stream becomes unstable and breaks down. This breakdown process robs the electrons of their high speed and converts the energy to heat.To hear more about the study see the CMNS feature.

May 2018

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Li-Jen Chen, Naoki Bessho, Levon Avanov and Shan Wang, whose study, "Electron bulk acceleration and thermalization at Earth's quasi-perpendicular bow shock," was published in the journal Physical Review Letters on May 31, 2018.

    This study describes the first observations of the process of electron heating in Earth's bow shock--a region formed by Earth's magnetic field as it pushes through solar wind. The researchers found that when the electrons in the solar wind encounter the bow shock, they momentarily accelerate to such a high speed that the electron stream becomes unstable and breaks down. This breakdown process robs the electrons of their high speed and converts the energy to heat.To hear more about the study see the CMNS feature.
  • All-sky cameras may be small but they are powerful observational tools. These cameras can capture large areas of the sky and can take up to a thousand photos per night. The photos can be used to observe and discover celestial objects like meteors, stars, cloud formations and much more and now thanks to Elizabeth Warner and Peter Teuben, we have two of them surveying the sky- one in the UMD Observatory and one in Haiti. To find out more about the installation of these all-sky cameras and their capabilities check out the CMNS article.
  • Congratulations to Alyssa Mills, dual degree astronomy and geology student, who is one of five recipients of the 2018 Summer Undergraduate Research Award. The award will allow Alyssa to take a five-week geology field course in Scotland where she will be studying and retrieving samples of rock formations and examining an ancient volcano. To find out more, checkout the CMNS article.
  • Congratulations to the winners at the Undergraduate Research Showcase, an event were undergrads present their research through slideshow or poster presentations. Those recognized included Astronomy and Physics undergrads Michael Greklek-Mckeon, Caleb Harada, and Stephanie Williams for their excellent poster presentations and Lucy Lu who was selected for outstanding talk. To see photos of the event, provided by Elizabeth Warner, see the google photos page.
  • Congratulations to graduating senior Christopher Bambic, a physics and astronomy dual-degree student, for being awarded the University Medal, which recognizes the most outstanding graduate of the year.The University Medal is awarded to the undergraduate who best personifies academic distinction, extraordinary character, and extracurricular contributions to the university and the larger public. Bambic will be honored for this achievement at the university's Spring Commencement Ceremony on May 20, 2018. To hear more, checkout the CMNS article.
  • Check out the Space.com article which discusses research on the origin of two-lobed shaped comets. The original study written by UMD Alumnus Stephen R. Schwartz and co-authored by Professor Derek Richardson explores the cause of two-lobed shaped comets like Comet 67P. According to simulations, comets which undergo disruptive collisions can slowly recombine and form into the "rubber-ducky" shaped comets we see the today. To find out more, see the Space.com article .
  • A "News and Views" article was written in Nature by our very own Drake Deming. Deming comments on the study which recently came out regarding the discovery of helium atoms in the eroding atmosphere of the giant exoplanet WASP-107b. He discusses the significance of this discovery and how research on exoplanetary atmospheres will evolve from the study. To read more, see the News and views article in Nature.
  • Congratulations to the CMNS Dean Award winners including Astronomy's Dr. Li-Jen Chen who has been awarded the Dean's Distinguished Research Scientist Award. This award was presented to her at the Academic Festival held May 4, 2018 at 3:00pm in the PSC Lobby where she and fellow award winners were celebrated for their outstanding work.To see pictures of the event and an article honoring each individual and their contributions refer to the CMNS facebook page and the CMNS publication .

April 2018

  • Many visitors joined the Astronomy Department on Maryland Day, Apr. 28. The department entertained and informed visitors with educational activities including the "Fingerprinting the Universe", "Ask an Astronomer", a solar observing station, as well as two new booths, an AGN station discussing women in Astronomy and another demonstration on how astronomers observe exoplanets. Many thanks to all of the many volunteers especially Elizabeth Warner for her hard work in coordinating the department's participation and making the day a success. For pictures and video of the event see the UMD Observatory facebook page.
  • Congratulations to astronomy and physics senior Christopher Bambic who among eight other students and alumni from the University of Maryland received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship is presented to gifted students exhibiting leadership qualities and ingenuity in the STEM field. To learn more about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship refer to the CMNS article.

March 2018

  • We are sorry to report that Dr. Charles (Chuck) Goodrich passed away on March 22. Dr. Goodrich was at UMD in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics from 1980-2002 and again during 2012-2013. He worked on the physical processes involved in plasma shocks, and he became the Director of UMD's Advanced Visualization Laboratory, a position that he held concomitantly with Senior Research Scientist. He will be remembered by many of us for his contributions.
  • A new monthly lecture series at UMD, Science on Tap, explores the latest discoveries in science and technology in a relaxed atmosphere with food and drink. This month's topic is Hungry Black Holes, where Assistant Professor Suvi Gezari will discuss how astronomers study these mysterious objects and results scientists have obtained from synoptic surveys like Zwicky. To find out more refer to the CMNS webpage.

February 2018

  • Congratulations to senior Christopher Bambic who has been awarded the prestigious 2018 Winston Churchill Scholarship. Bambic, a physics and astronomy dual major at the University of Maryland will spend next year completing his master's degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. There he will continue his research in high energy astrophysics under Dr. Christopher Reynolds and Dr. Andrew Fabian. To learn more about Bambic's research refer to the CMNS article, a video of Bambic explaining his work and a WJLA-TV piece on the two winners of the Churchill scholarship.
  • The Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission is one of two final concepts selected for further development under NASA's New Frontiers program. If the concept is selected, a spacecraft will be designed to collect a sample from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and return it to earth. Associate research scientists Dennis Bodewits and Michael Kelley will lead the Comet Environment Working Group for the CAESAR team where they will assess the risks the surface of comet 67P poses for the spacecraft and help develop the sample acquisition technology. To learn more about what a sample of comet material could unveil refer to the CMNS article.
  • Congratulations to Assistant Research Scientist Eleonora Troja, who received the Italian Bilateral Scientific Cooperation Award. The award recognizes Troja's remarkable contributions to the science and technology field and her commitment to advancing scientific cooperation fostered by her work and time abroad.

January 2018

  • Ever since gamma rays, neutrinos and cosmic rays were first detected, scientists have been searching for their origins. We may be closer to solving the mystery of how these particles are created thanks to a study co-authored by Post-Doctoral Associate Ke Fang. From this study, compelling evidence supports the theory that the source of these high energy particles are believed to be active black holes inside of galaxy clusters. To find out more about the findings refer to the ScienceNews article, and the original paper published in Nature.
  • UMD research scientists observed the most dramatic slowdown of a comet's rate of spin. The discovery of comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák's dramatic change in rotation was made by two teams. One of the teams which consisted of research scientists Dennis Bodewits, Tony Farnham, Michael Kelley and Matthew Knight made the discovery on the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Mission which is now known as the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory in tribute of Neil Gehrels work on Swift and in honor of his passing. The second team included assistant research scientist Matthew Knight and was led by Dave Schleicher (M.S. '80, Ph.D. '83, astronomy) using the Lowell Observatory's Discovery Channel Telescope. Both teams of scientists were able to measure the rotational period of the comet and discovered that it had slowed an unprecedented amount, from a rotation period of 24 hours to 48 hours over a time interval of just 6 weeks. To find out more about comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak and how these findings will improve our understanding of comets see the CMNS press release. To learn more about Neil Gehrel's contributions to swift and the astronomy field refer to the CMNS press release
  • Research Scientists are celebrating "first light" of a new automated sky survey called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), based at Caltech's Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California. The new camera will image hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in the Northern sky every night and investigate transient events such as supernovae events and active black holes. Some of the scientists who made it possible include Astronomy's Suvi Gezari, Stuart Vogel, Dennis Bodewits and Melissa Hayes-Gehrke; adjunct professors Julie McEnery (Physics) and Brad Cenko (Astronomy) and several others. To find out more on the new survey refer to the CMNS article.
  • Carnegie Observatories Director John Mulchaey (Ph.D '94, astronomy) and Carnegie Embryology Director Yixian Zheng have been selected as interim co-presidents for the Carnegie institution for Science. "For more than two decades, Carnegie has allowed me to grow professionally, not only in terms of my own scientific research, but also by letting me extend my work into the arenas of outreach, public programming, and development," Mulchaey says of the organization that he is proud to be serving. To hear more about the new co-presidents and the Carnegie institution refer to the spaceref article.

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Full news list
Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II    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