News from the Department (2009)

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December 2009

  • Research scientist Dr. Surja Sharma will give the Lorentz Lecture, entitled "Complexity of Earth's Magnetosphere: Coherence in a Multiscale Open System", at the Dec. 14-18 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

November 2009

  • Recent work by Professor Richard Mushotzky is providing good evidence for the existence of intermediate mass black holes. He and NASA-Goddard collaborator Tod Strohmayer used the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton and NASA's Swift space telescopes to study an X-ray source in galaxy NGC 5408, This source suggests the presence of a black hole thousands of times more massive than our Sun. Here is a link to the "Science Daily" story.

October 2009

  • Professor Doug Hamilton is one of three authors of a paper in Nature describing an immense new ring around Saturn. The ring, composed of cool dust and ice particles, was discovered using infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The bulk of it starts about 6 million km away from the planet and extends outward another 12 million km; its orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet's main ring plane. Dust particles from the ring may be responsible for the dark face of Saturn's moon, Iapetus.

  • UMD astronomers and students appeared in an episode of the History Channel's "The Universe" series called "The Search for Cosmic Clusters" (Season 4, Episode 7). Research scientist Dr. Peter Teuben was interviewed about computational N-body simulations, and 13 students demonstrated an N-body calculation on a chalkboard in an en-masse problem-solving session! The episode is available from Comcast On-Demand.

September 2009

  • There are traces of water (and hydroxyl) across the entirety of the Moon's surface! This is reported in a paper being published in Science Express (the on-line version of Science) by Jessica Sunshine, Tony Farnham, Lori Feaga, Olivier Groussin, Frederic Merlin, and Mike A'Hearn. They used observations from the Deep Impact spacecraft (currently engaged in the EPOXI mission) and built upon results from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (for which Sunshine is a Co-I) and the Cassini space probe to reach their conclusion.

  • Undergrad junior Valerie Klavans is this year's winner of the Nancy and Ira Shapiro Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award, the College Park Scholars top research award. Klavans worked with Paul Romani, a College Park Scholar Instructor and NASA-Goddard scientist, on the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, which has a nitrogen atmosphere as dense as our own.

  • Undergrad junior Erin Grand assembled 85 GB of images from the Swift space telescope to produce the highest-resolution view in ultraviolet light ever obtained of our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy. She worked with Assistant Research Scientist Stefan Immler at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as an intern during Summer 2009. The results provide many details about the galaxy's star formation processes. The NASA press release has more information, including the full image and a video tour of the galaxy.

July 2009

  • The University of Maryland Astronomy Department will be co-hosting the 2009 "Women in Astronomy and Space Sciences" meeting at the University Conference Center from Oct. 21-23, 2009. The meeting follows up on similar meetings in 1993 and 2002, and the focus at this event will include generational issues and minorities in astronomy. Co-hosts include NASA-Goddard, AAS, STScI, NGST, and others. Registration and additional information can be found at the meeting's website.

June 2009

  • Dr. Lucy McFadden is a member of the Dawn Science Operations Team which received the NASA Group Achievement Award "for exceptional and successful execution of the Dawn post-launch payload characterization and calibration activities."

  • Dr. Richard Mushotzky has accepted a position as Professor in the Department of Astronomy and will begin his appointment in Fall 2009. Dr. Mushotzky, formerly of NASA-Goddard, is a renowned expert in black holes, clusters of galaxies, and active galactic nuclei, and is one of the most respected high-energy astronomers in the world. Welcome, Dr. Mushotzky!

April 2009

  • Prof. Eve Ostriker has been selected as a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow for her work on large-scale regulation of star formation. Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment. This year, 180 Fellowships were awarded to artists, scientists, and scholars, chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants.

February 2009

  • Prof. Derek Richardson's work on the formation of binary asteroids has been selected as one of the top ten astronomy stories of 2008 by the popular science magazine "Astronomy" (January 09 edition). This work, with former student Kevin Walsh (2006 Ph.D.), used numerical simulations to solve the puzzle of why binary asteroids are so common in the solar system.

  • Misty La Vigne has accepted an offer of an Assistant Professor position at McKendree University (near St. Louis), and 2008 graduate Lisa Winter has received a NASA Hubble Fellowship to continue her work on black holes and active galactic nuclei at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Congratulations, Misty and Lisa!

January 2009

  • Dr. Neil Gehrels, an adjunct professor at UM who is based at NASA-Goddard, has won the prestigious 2009 Henry Draper medal for his pioneering contributions to gamma ray astronomy. His leadership of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Swift Mission has led to new insights into the extreme physics of active galactic nuclei and gamma ray bursts. The Henry Draper Medal and a prize of $15,000 are awarded by the National Academy of Sciences for an original investigation in astronomical physics.

  • Postdoc Tamara Bogdanović has been awarded an Einstein Fellowship to continue her research at Maryland. This prestigious NASA-sponsored award provides support for up to three years for highly qualified, recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the scientific mission of the NASA Physics of the Cosmos program. Tamara has been working with Prof. Chris Reynolds on modeling the astrophysical behavior of supermassive black holes.

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