News from the Department (2014)

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December 2014

November 2014

  • This month marks the 50th anniversary of the University of Maryland observatory. Observatory coordinator, Elizabeth Warner, has worked at the observatory for 12 years and hosts an open house on the 5th and 20th of every month. These open houses give the public a chance to hear a lecture and to look through the telescopes.

  • In a paper recently published by authors including Professor Richard Mushotzky, Professor Sylvain Veilleux, Alumnus Michael Koss Ph.D. '11), and Einstein fellow Doctor Laura Blecha, they discuss the potential origins of an extremely bright source of light from a galaxy 90 million light years away. The two potential options include either a supermassive black hole or a very bright star known as a Luminous Blue Variable (LBV). For more information, check out the CMNS release Dwarf Galaxy Mystery: 'Kicked' Black Hole or Mega Star?.

  • Rosetta's Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) captured images of the Philae lander as it approached and landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Professor Michael A'Hearn and Assistant Research Scientist Dennis Bodewits are part of the OSIRIS camera team. Images from OSIRIS are expected to help find Philae's final landing spot and report back more information about 67P over the next year and a half. For more information, check out the CMNS article.

  • The university community came in droves to our watch party on Nov. 12, as the Rosetta space mission succeeded in the first-ever landing of a robotic probe on a comet! The event included images and live-streaming footage from the European Space Agency on the big video screen in the lobby of the new Physical Sciences Complex. Dr. Tony Farnham, Prof. Jessica Sunshine, and Distinguished University Prof. Roald Sagdeev all provided live commentary. For more information on the event and on UMD's involvement in the Rosetta mission, see the CMNS article.

  • The Washington Post ran a graphic on the university's new Deepthought2 supercomputer which features research done by Professor M. Coleman Miller and grad student Ron Ballouz. Deepthought2 was ranked the 14th fastest computer in American academia.

  • Former intern Yang Yu, Prof. Derek Richardson, alumnus Steve Schwartz (Ph.D. '13), and grad student Ron Ballouz were featured in a Science News commentary on comet Apophis. When this comet passes by Earth in April of 2029, it is expected to experience avalanches due to the Earth's gravitational pull.

October 2014

  • UMD is #21 in the world in Space Science research in U.S. News' recent ranking of global universities! We rank ahead of institutions such as the University of Michigan, UCLA, the University of Virginia, MIT, and Harvard. Space Science is defined by the study as follows: "Topics include astronomy and astrophysics, celestial bodies and other subjects related to the study of the universe." A separate study by OECD of worldwide research institutions' use of satellite technology ranked UMD #9 globally and #2 among U.S. universities. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where many of our students undertake projects, was top-ranked in this study.)

  • Undergrad Allison Bostrom has been chosen as a 2014-2015 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar, one of the top campus scholarship awards for undergraduates. Typically, only a couple of students from our entire college of ~5000 undergrads win this award each year. Winners select the UM faculty member who has had the greatest impact on their achievements, and Allison selected Prof. Chris Reynolds. She is working with him on X-ray observations of the galaxy 3C 411, which is host to an active galactic nucleus driven by a supermassive black hole at its core. For more information, see Allison's Scholar profile.

  • Alumnus Kartik Sheth (Ph.D. '01) was featured in a NASA press release Galactic Wheel of Life Shines in Infrared about the nearby galaxy NGC 1291. Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveal an unusual ring of newly forming stars around the outskirts of the galaxy. Dr. Sheth leads the Spitzer Survey of Stellar Structure in Galaxies (S4G) to better understand these and other structural features of galaxies.

  • As part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, Prof. Cole Miller is one of "The Nifty Fifty" scientists and engineers who will fan out across the Washington, DC area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak at various middle and high schools about their work and careers.

  • Alumna Fabienne Bastien (B.S. '05) was featured in "NSF Discoveries." In the article, it outlines some of the steps that are being taken by Partnerships in Astronomy and Astrophysics Research and Education (PAARE) to enhance diversity in Astronomy and all of STEM.

September 2014

  • Professor Drake Deming, along with graduate students Jonathan Fraine and Ashlee Wilkins were published in Nature Magazine. Using three NASA telescopes, they found water vapor in the atmosphere of a planet about four times bigger than Earth, in the constellation Cygnus about 124 light years - or nearly 729 trillion miles - from our home planet. This discovery marks the smallest planet for which scientists have been able to identify some chemical components of its atmosphere. Media coverage has been widespread; for examples, see the CMNS release Major Milestone in the Search for Water on Distant Planets, the Washington Post, National Geographic,, and many others.

  • Graduate student Maggie McAdam has been accepted to the Graduate School-TLTC Graduate Teaching Fellows Program (formerly known as Graduate Lilly Fellows). This group exists to develop and sustain a cross-disciplinary learning community of graduate students as future faculty. Congratulations, Maggie!

  • In the early days of the mission, Rosetta is already showing new and unexpected findings about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or C-G for short, like its distinct two-lobed shape. Prof. Mike A'Hearn and Research Scientist Lori Feaga are co-investigators working with an ultraviolet spectrograph named Alice. So far, Alice has discovered that C-G is very dark in color in the ultraviolet, has very little variation in color across its surface, and does not have much visible water-ice on its surface. Alice is getting a lot of media attention including articles in Astronomy Magazine, Science Daily, and Tech Times.

  • Undergrad Allison Bostrom was the first author on a paper published in the Aug. 20 issue of the prestigious Astrophysical Journal. The article, "An XMM-Newton View of the Radio Galaxy 3C 411," presents X-ray observations and possible models for the galaxy 3C 411, which is host to an active galactic nucleus. Allison's co-authors includes Prof. Chris Reynolds and Dr. Francesco Tombesi. Congratulations, Allison!

  • The Joint Space Science Institute (JSI) - consisting of astrophysicists and physicists from the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center - is hosting a workshop on "Multimessenger Astronomy in the Era of PeV Neutrinos" on November 10-12, 2014, in historic Annapolis, Maryland. The meeting will cover a broad range of topics related to the astrophysics of high-energy neutrino, photon and cosmic ray sources and what can be learned through multimessenger observations.

August 2014

  • Graduate student Dheeraj Pasham and Professor Richard Mushotzky had their paper, "A 400-solar-mass black hole in the galaxy M82" published in Nature Magazine. The paper provides compelling evidence for this new intermediate-mass class of black holes, whose existence had previously been disputed. This article has attracted a lot of media attention including a CMNS release Fascinating Rhythm: Light Pulses Illuminate Rare Black Hole, Science magazine, and Time magazine.

  • Dr. Francesco Tombesi was awarded the 2014 Astrophysics Science Division Peer Award at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He received a plaque for his outstanding contributions in support of the ASTRO-H mission and to the understanding of ultrafast outflows in active galactic nuclei. Congratulations!

  • On August 6th Rosetta will meet up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and orbit around the comet as it approaches the Sun. Professor Mike A'Hearn and Professor Jessica Sunshine were both quoted in the Science article (subscription required) regarding the Rosetta mission. In the article, Jessica notes different features that can simultaneously exist on a single comet. Mike is a Co-Investigator of two of the instruments on Rosetta and poses questions about the formation and composition of comets. The Rosetta mission hopes to answer questions like these and many more.

July 2014

  • Several new asteroids have been named in honor of UMD researchers for their work in solar system studies. Protopapa was named after Assistant Research Scientist Silvia Protopapa, Kelleymichael was named after Assistant Research Scientist Mike Kelley, and Matthewknight was named after alum Matthew Knight (Ph.D.'08). Congratulations all!

  • Professor Drake Deming and a team of astronomers have found traces of water vapor on three exoplanets. Despite the exciting discovery of water vapor, the amount of it was far less than predicted. This new insight could open up an opportunity for astronomers to learn how planets form. For more information, check out the CMNS article.

June 2014

  • Alumna Amy Reines (B.S. '98) received the NASA Hubble Fellowship. This fellowship program supports postdoctoral scientists whose research is related to NASA Cosmic Origins scientific goals. For more information on the Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, follow this link. Congratulations, Amy!

  • Professor Dennis Papadopoulos' Washington Times article has received further attention on NPR. He is advocating to keep the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) alive. The facility is due to close after experiments ended on June 10 of this year. The facility, run by the Air Force, is set to be bulldozed for monetary reasons.

  • Drs. Dennis Bodewits and Tony Farnham observed a new comet named Siding Spring. This comet is from so far out in the solar system that it is only now making its first loop around the sun. The team imaged the comet, measured for size, detected the elemental make up of its dust and gas, and noted that it would not pass too dangerously close to Mars. For more information, check out the CMNS release Comet's Brush With Mars Offers Opportunity, Not Danger, the New York Times article, or the Popular Mechanics article.

  • Alumnus Brent Tully (Ph.D. '72) was awarded the 2014 Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize. This prize honors leading cosmologists, astronomers, astrophysicists or scientific philosophers for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries leading to advances in understanding the universe. The prize will be presented to Brent and his co-winners on October 1 at Yale University. Congratulations!

  • Grad student Maggie McAdam wins first place for her Oral Presentation at the Clay Mineral Society Meeting. At the annual meeting, she spoke on the topic of "Spectral Trends in Aqueously Altered CM/CI meteorites." As a winner, she will receive free CMS membership in 2015. Congratulations, Maggie!

May 2014

  • Prof. Dennis Papadopoulos was quoted in a Nature/News article, May 16, expressing his concerns about the likely shutdown of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) by the U.S. Air Force. Media coverage included the Christian Science Monitor, the Voice of Russia, Washington Times and the Alaska Dispatch.

  • Alumna Ashley King (B.S. '09) is one of this year's 12 recipients of a prestigious NASA Einstein Fellowship. The fellowship provides a very generous stipend and enables young Ph.D. scientists to pursue independent research in high energy astrophysics at an institution of their choice. Dr. King will work at Stanford University on a project called "Unveiling the Physical Nature of Black Hole Winds". For more information, see her project description (select 2014, then scroll down). Congratulations!

  • Gabriele Betancourt and Krista Smith have each won NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships (NESSF). There were only 9 NESSF fellowships in astrophysics awarded nationwide this year. The fellowship provides a $24K stipend plus additional support which is renewable for up to 3 years. Congratulations, Gabriele and Krista!

  • Alex Fitts and Myra Stone are recipients of the 2013-2014 Graduate Student Teaching Awards. These awards are given at the end of each academic year by the Center for Teaching Excellence to honor the most outstanding graduate student instructors and teaching assistants. Congratulations!

  • Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke has won the 2014 Undergraduate Studies General Education Teaching Award. This prize is awarded to a single faculty member per year and is based on student nominations. The award is for her General Education course, ASTR 315, a new "Scholarship in Practice" course for non-science majors. Among other things, her students discovered an eclipsing double-asteroid. Congratulations!

  • Prof. Mike Boylan-Kolchin has published an article in Nature's "News & Views" section discussing a new simulation of cosmic structure formation. This calculation spans over 13 billion years of cosmic evolution. This article has been quoted by several news sources including BBC, CNN,, The Guardian, and News Scientist.

  • This year, three Astronomy undergraduates will be graduating with departmental Honors. Honors candidates are accepted into the Honors Program on the basis of recommendations from faculty and work with a faculty advisor on a research project. They submit a written report on their project and undergo an oral comprehensive examination; successful candidates graduate "with Honors (or High Honors) in Astronomy." The students' names (and those of their faculty mentors) are David Blankenship (Andrew Harris), Lily Mannoia (Jessica Sunshine), and Thomas Rimlinger (Doug Hamilton and Derek Richardson). Congratulations!

  • Prof. Suvi Gezari published a feature article in the May 2014 issue of "Physics Today" titled "The tidal disruption of stars by supermassive black holes." In the article, she describes the work that she and others have done to find and study tidal disruption events, which take place when stars get too close to the giant black holes at the centers of galaxies.

  • Undergraduate Allison Bostrom has won this year's J.R. Dorfman Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Research for her work with Prof. Chris Reynolds and Dr. Francesco Tombesi. This $1,000 prize is awarded annually for the best research project conducted by a current undergraduate within the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Congratulations, Alison!

April 2014

  • 80,000 visitors visited the university campus for Maryland Day on a nice (but windy!) day on Apr. 26. The department entertained and informed visitors with a variety of solar telescopes and our "Fingerprinting the Universe" and "Ask an Astronomer" booths. The AstroTerps student club gave an excellent presentation on astronomical citizen science. Visitors were also able to see and admire the department's new (partial) home, the Physical Sciences Complex. 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.

  • Starting in January, many of the department's faculty and graduate students have moved to the new Physical Sciences Complex (PSC) building. This beautiful building is designed with lots of light and interaction spaces, and the central glass ellipse is simply breathtaking! We share the building with the physics department, and we anticipate many fruitful collaborations as a result. The rest of the astronomy department is immediately adjacent in the Computer and Space Sciences Building, connected by a convenient walkway, and many of the students and faculty there will see office upgrades during the summer.

  • Rodrigo Herrera-Camus and Ronald Ballouz both took home first place prizes at the Maryland Graduate Research Interaction Day (GRID) Competition. GRID provides an on-campus conference-style venue in which graduate students from all academic backgrounds can share their research, obtain valuable faculty and peer feedback, and hone their conference presentation skills within the comfort of their own campus environment.

  • Grad student Vicki Toy has won an International Conference Student Support Award from the Graduate School. She'll be going to the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation meeting in Montreal in June. This is the most prestigious event for developers of ground- and space-based telescopes, the supporting technologies, and the latest instrumentation. Congratulations!

  • Astronomy Workshop was featured in article on called "The 10 Weirdest Calculations You Can Make Online Right Now." The Astronomy Workshop is actually a suite of programs and calculators; the one described in this article was written by Prof. Doug Hamilton and is called "Solar System Collisions".

  • Grad student Anne Lohfink has won the 2014 CMNS Board of Visitors Outstanding Graduate Student Award. The award is given to only two students from the entire College, and it comes with a $5,000 prize. The major criterion is demonstrated scholarly and research excellence. Anne will be defending her Ph.D. thesis on Friday, Apr. 25, entitled "Probing the central regions of AGN".

  • Dr. Gerald Share was interviewed for a new episode of "Cosmic Front" about Supernova 1987A. Cosmic Front is a weekly, 50-minute program about space and space exploration. The episode will cover the discovery of SN 1987A as well as its research history since the discovery. The episode is scheduled to be broadcast in Japan in May.

  • Alumni Matt Bobrowski (Ph.D. '85) is a 2014 "Nifty Fifty" speaker. The "Nifty Fifty" is a group of 150 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, DC area in the 2013-2014 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Dr. Bobrowsky will speak about the groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy that he is making using the Hubble Space Telescope, and of the exciting science outreach with students and teachers he conducts!

  • Grad student Gabriele Betancourt-Martinez has won the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NTSRF). She will take her NSTRF at NASA-Goddard working on X-ray microcalorimeters under the supervision of Dr. Scott Porter. In addition to the NSRTF, Gabrielle was awarded an American Astronomical Society (AAS) International Travel Grant to attend the SPIE meeting in Montreal.

  • Grad student Maggie McAdam has won a 2014 CMS Student Travel Grant and a Goldhaber Travel Grant. The travel grant program is designed to provide partial financial support to graduate students to attend the annual meeting of the Clay Minerals Society to present results of their research. Congratulations!

  • Professor Charles Bennett(B.S. '74) has won the CMNS Distinguished Alumnus Prize. His major field of research is in experimental cosmology. The award comes with a plaque and a cash prize of $5,000, funded by an endowment created through gifts from Board members. Congratulations, Charles!

  • Professor Sylvain Veilleux has been selected as a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. His research interests specifically include extragalactic astrophysics. This year, 177 Fellowships were awarded to artists, scientists, and scholars, chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants. Congratulations!

March 2014

  • Following up from the previous story about Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke's ASTR 315 students, The Minor Planet Bulletin's most recent issue features all 3 of the student groups' results. The 3 papers include "Lightcurve Analysis of Main-Belt Binary System 3905 Doppler," "Rotation Period of 983 Gunila," and "Rotation Period of 5110 Belgirate." Congratulations!

February 2014

  • Alumnus Matthew Knight (Ph.D. '08) was quoted in an article in Nature magazine discussing the fate of comet ISON. As the comet approached the Sun, it surprisingly shattered. Some explanations for this include the small size and the Oort cloud origin of ISON. Matthew was at Kitt Peak in Arizona to view ISON the morning of close approach when he realized that the comet would not survive passing the Sun.

January 2014

  • Dr. Rob Olling, Prof. Richard Mushotzky, and Dr. Ed Shaya report to the American Astronomical Society that, with their time using the Kepler space telescope, they have detected and studied 5-8 supernovas in a two year period. These findings are opening up new questions about type Ia supernovas and how they are triggered. For more information, check out this article in Nature Magazine.

  • Professor Chris Reynolds has received a pair of impressive honors. He has been awarded a Simons Foundation Fellowship, which funds faculty for part of a sabbatical to enable them to focus on a research project with the potential for significant impact. He was also elected by his peers to serve as Vice-Chair (and Chair in two years) of the American Astronomical Society's High Energy Astrophysics Division. Congratulations, Chris!

  • Professors Alberto Bolatto and Erik Rosolowsky's image of the wind from galaxy NGC253 was featured in Nature Magazine's Images of the Year. This image was taken from the ALMA radio telescopes in Chile, and shows the carbon monoxide in the wind.

  • Senior Research Scientist Ludmilla Kolokolova gave an interview to the American version of Voice of Russia on December 23 where she answered questions associated with the big astronomical headlines of 2013. Her interview covered exciting topics such as comet ISON, the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, commercial space flight, and exoplanets. To listen to the interview, check out this link.

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