News from the Department (2015)

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December 2015

  • Alum Charles Bennett (B.S. '78) has been named one of the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg Distinguished Professors "from a cadre of world-class faculty members whose excellence in research, teaching, and service are centered on interdisciplinary scholarship." Congratulations!

  • Associate research scientist, Michael Kelley, was interviewed for a Discovery News article. The article discusses research priorities for the James Webb Space Telescope once it launches in 2018.

November 2015

  • A Joint Space Science Center (JSI) mini-symposium will be held in CSS 2400 on November 20 from 1pm-4pm, bringing together researchers from the Departments of Astronomy and Physics and from NASA/Goddard. The symposium titled "JSI Scientists Jamboree" will include speakers Dave Tsang, Erik Blaufuss, Peter Polko, Andrew Smith, Jane Dai, Ke Fang, and Erin Kara.

  • Congratulations to Dennis Bodewits and Michael A'Hearn, who led an effort to generate maps of multiple gas emissions just above the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko using data from Rosetta's Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) cameras. The work, which was selected for a media briefing at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Maryland, has already revealed surprising physical and chemical processes never before seen up close. For more information, check out the CMNS release UMD-led Team Maps Gas Emissions from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

  • Congratulations to grad student Maggie McAdam who has received a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. Maggie wrote her proposal on "Water in the Early Solar System: Mid-Infrared Studies of Aqueous Alteration on Asteroids." For more information, check out the CMNS release Three UMD Graduate Students Receive NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships.

October 2015

  • Congratulations to Marcia Segura, Richard Achterberg, and Brigette Hesman. They are part of the Cassini Composite InfraRed Spectrometer (CIRS) Operations team members who have received the Robert H. Goddard Honor Award "for exceptional support of the Cassini Composite InfraRed Spectrometer instrument operations spanning nearly two decades."

  • Sophomore Astronomy and Physics Major, Junellie Gonzalez Quiles, was featured in a CMNS release Meet UMD Astronomy and Physics Major Junellie Gonzalez Quiles describing her journey on pursuing her dream of becoming an astrophysicist.

  • Coleman Miller, Bradley Cenko, Suvi Gezari, and Richard Mushotzky, co-authored a new paper, "Flows of X-ray gas reveal the disruption of a star by a massive black hole," published this week in Nature. The paper describes the observation of a tidal disruption event, named ASASSN-14li, in a galaxy that lies about 290 million light years from Earth. For more information, take a look at the CMNS release Astronomers Catch a Black Hole Shredding A Star to Pieces.

  • Congratulations to Doug Hamilton and Silvia Protopapa, co-authors on a new paper, "The Pluto system: Initial results from its exploration by New Horizons," published in Science. Silvia provided expertise to analyze New Horizons data related to Pluto's surface composition and Doug provided his expertise to analyze Pluto's moons. For more info, check out the CMNS release New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Striking Surface Variations & Unique Moon Rotations.

  • Adjunct Assistant Professor Brad Cenko, Assistant Resident Scientist Francesco Tombesi, and Assistant Resident Scientist Hiroya Yamaguchi have each been selected to receive a 2015 Robert H. Goddard Honor Award for their scientific work. The award recipients will be honored at the annual RHG Honor Awards Ceremony scheduled to take place in March. Congratulations!

  • The White House is holding its second "White House Astronomy Night" on Monday 19 Oct. Since most of us can't go to the White House, the organizers have invited clubs, observatories, and other organizations to hold a local "Astronomy Night" in conjunction with the White House event. So, the UMD Observatory will host an observing-only session on Monday 19 Oct from 6:30-10:30pm on top of the Terrapin Trail Garage. If it is cloudy, we will not be able to observe. Therefore a Go/ No-go decision will be posted to the UMD Observatory website by 5pm on Monday 19 Oct. Hope to see you there!

  • NASA has selected six science data nodes to archive and distribute science data from the Agency's Planetary Data System (PDS). The Small Bodies Node, led by Dr. Michael A'Hearn has been selected. The Science Nodes are discipline-based active archives that interface between NASA missions delivering data and the science community.

  • Assistant Research Scientist Francesco Tombesi is receiving the 2015 Italian National prize "Gentile da Fabriano" in Fabriano, Italy, for his scientific accomplishments as an early career scientist. Congratulations, Francesco!

  • Silvia Protopapa, one of our assistant research scientists, is on the New Horizons science team and has been quoted in a press release New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto about the detection of water ice on Pluto's surface using the New Horizons Ralph/LEISA data. This discovery is the result of the efforts on the part of the entire New Horizons surface composition team.

  • Alum Alex Lockwood '07 is one of the stars of the Grad-School inspired movie, "The Ph.D. Movie 2." Stamp Student Union is hosting a special screening at 6pm on October 1.

September 2015

  • Faculty members Stuart Vogel, Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, Suvi Gezari and Brad Cenko and the UMD GRAD-MAP program with leader/grad student Ashlee Wilkins are part of a new $4.5 million Caltech-led, NSF-funded project. The project, dubbed Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH), is a collaboration between 12 universities that utilizes a network of telescopes around the world to enable researchers to monitor short-term cosmic events. Most of the events will be identified by 2 major surveys in which UMD is a partner: the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) and the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). UMD undergraduates will analyze data collected by the telescopes to obtain scientifically useful results in 2 new courses modeled after our highly successful ASTR 315 (see 2nd paragraph below). See also the CMNS release UMD, Partners Receive $4.5 Million to Study Cosmic Flashes.

  • Congratulations to Dheeraj Pasham, Bradley Cenko, Richard Mushotzky and Francesco Tombesi, co-authors on a paper, "Evidence for High-Frequency QPOs with a 3:2 Frequency Ratio from a 5000 Solar Mass Black Hole," published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. The paper describes evidence for a new intermediate-mass black hole about 5,000 times the mass of the sun. The discovery adds one more candidate to the list of potential medium-sized black holes, while strengthening the case that these objects do exist. For more information, check out the CMNS release Astronomers Identify a New Mid-size Black Hole.

  • Students in the Spring 2015 offering of ASTR 315 have had their project results published in 5 separate articles in the latest Minor Planet Bulletin. ASTR 315 (Astronomy in Practice) is a new course for non-majors designed and taught by Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke. Students in the course observe asteroids using telescopes in New Mexico and Spain that they control from UMD via the internet. They then analyze their data to determine the asteroids' light curves and rotation periods. Congratulations to all of you on being professionally published!

  • Assistant Research Scientist, Dr. Sylvain Guiriec, has won the 2015 Young Scientist Prize from the Astrophysics Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. He has received this award for his research on Gamma Ray Bursts. Congratulations, Sylvain!

  • Assistant Research Scientist, Robert Tyler, and postdoc, Wade Henning, co-authored a paper in The Astrophysical Journal on tidal heating properties within the Jupiter's volcanic satellite, Io. Their research is helping to better understand what lies beneath the surface of this hyperactive moon. For more information, check out this NASA press release Underground Magma Ocean Could Explain Io's 'Misplaced' Volcanoes.

  • Over the summer, several astronomy department professors, grad students, and alumni were featured in a CMNS article on supermassive black holes. The article quotes Professors Suvi Gezari, Sylvain Veilleux, Richard Mushotzky, and Chris Reynolds; research scientist Francesco Tombesi; grad student Tingting Liu; and alumni R. Brent Tully (Ph.D. '72), John Mulchaey (Ph.D. '94), KwangHo Park (Ph.D. '12), and Amy Reines (B.S. '98). The article also refers to the work of postdoc Dheeraj Pasham (Ph.D. '14) and of alumni David Rupke (Ph.D. '04) and J. Richard Fisher (Ph.D. '72).

  • Sadly, Bill Erickson passed away on September 5. Bill was a professor in our astronomy program from 1963 to 1988 and continued collaborating with our department for a number of years afterwards. He was a pioneer in radio astronomy and the inaugural winner of the Grote Reber Medal for lifetime contributions to radio astronomy. He played a key role in building radio astronomy at Maryland. AAS has posted an obituary for him on their webpage. He will be deeply missed.

August 2015

  • The Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), a partnership between the University of Maryland College Park and the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, is hosting a 3 day conference on The Physics of Supermassive Black Hole Formation and Feedback at the Loews Annapolis Hotel on October 12-14. The meeting will bring together theorists and observers to discuss the latest developments in our understanding of physics of jets and winds from accreting black holes, the formation and feedback of the earliest supermassive black holes, AGN feedback in dwarf galaxies, quasar-mode feedback at high and low redshift, interaction of AGN with the intracluster medium of galaxy clusters, and the physics of the intracluster medium.

July 2015

  • Congratulations to Assistant Research Scientist, Dr. Jerry Bonnell. He has received the Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy for his work on the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Since 1995, he and his co-creator, Dr. Robert Nemiroff, have selected and explained one image of our universe every day. Congratulations, Jerry!

June 2015

  • Congratulations to Douglas Hamilton and team, whose paper "Resonant interactions and chaotic rotation of Pluto's small moons" is published in this week's edition of Nature. The study is the first to reveal fascinating details about the orbital and rotational patterns of Pluto and its five known moons. The Pluto-Charon "binary planet" orbit around each other and four smaller moons orbit this pair. This study has received a lot of attention from news sources like the Washington Post and the New York Times. Check out the CMNS release Pluto's Moons Seen in Highest Detail Yet for more information.

May 2015

  • Graduate student Maggie McAdam has earned a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship in planetary science. Maggie works with Professor Jessica Sunshine using spectroscopy to study the mineralogy of asteroids, which can help us to understand the distribution of water in the early solar system. Way to go, Maggie!

  • Research scientists Tony Farnham, Mike Kelley, and Dennis Bodewits were part of The Comet Modeling, Prediction and Assessment Team which received a NASA Group Achievement Award. This award was given out for their part in the "exceptional achievement in trajectory prediction, comet dust modeling, and risk assessment of hazards posed by the close, 2014 fly-by of Comet Siding Spring past Mars." Congratulations to all 3 of you!

  • Research Associate Rob Olling, Professor Richard Mushotzky, and Associate Research Scientist Ed Shaya were recently published in Nature for their research on "baby supernovae." They studied 3 types of 1a supernovae using NASA's Kepler spacecraft. This research helps to better understand what causes these types of supernovae and how to use them in judging cosmic distances. For more information, check out NASA press release NASA Spacecraft Capture Rare, Early Moments of Baby Supernovae. (as reprinted by SciTechDaily.)

  • Graduate student Ron Ballouz has won a Chateaubriand Fellowship. The Chateaubriand Fellowship supports Ph.D. students registered in an American university who wish to conduct part of their doctoral research in a French laboratory. Way to go, Ron!

  • Congratulations to graduate student Ashlee Wilkins. She has been elected by campus graduate students as Vice President for Academic Affairs and to the Executive Board of our Graduate Student Government.

  • Graduate student Krista Smith has earned a Graduate All - S.T.A.R. Fellowship. Krista is working with Professor Richard Mushotzky on the regions around supermassive black holes in the centers of active galaxies. The Graduate All-S.T.A.R. Fellowships are intended to support and honor graduate students who are both outstanding scholars and outstanding graduate assistants. Congratulations, Krista!

April 2015

  • Alumnus John Mulchaey (Ph.D. '94) has been appointed as the Crawford H. Greenewalt Director of the Carnegie Observatories. He has been with Carnegie for 20 years studying groups and clusters of galaxies, elliptical galaxies, dark matter, active galaxies, and black holes. Way to go, John!

  • Graduate student, Katie Jameson has won the Graduate Student Distinguished Service Award. Katie founded the group "Graduate Resources Advancing Diversity with Maryland Astronomy and Physics" (GRAD-MAP). GRAD-MAP encourages and supports promising students at regional minority-serving institutions to pursue graduate degrees in physics and astronomy. Congratulations, Katie!

  • Come join us for Maryland Day on Saturday, April 25! Our department's activities will include 1) "Ask an Astronomer", where you can ask your most perplexing astronomy questions, 2) "Fingerprinting the Universe", which shows how astronomers decode light to unravel the mysteries of the universe, and 3) "Solar Observing" through our telescopes (weather permitting!). You can find us at "Science and Tech Way" in front of the Glenn L. Martin Building.

  • Congratulations to graduate student Tingting Liu, Prof. Suvi Gezari, and Dr. Sebastien Heinis, who published a paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters presenting direct evidence of a pulsing quasar. This is believed to be caused by two supermassive black holes in the center of a distant galaxy that are orbiting each other and are in the process of merging.

  • Congratulations to former graduate student Mike McDonald (Ph.D. '11) on accepting a tenure-track faculty position at MIT! Mike was an outstanding student here working with Professor Sylvain Veilleux to study cooling flows in galaxy clusters. His hard work earned him a prestigious Hubble Fellowship which he took to MIT. All of us here in the department wish you good luck as an MIT professor!

  • Graduate student, Taro Shimizu, just won the Graduate Dean's Dissertation Fellowship for AY 2015-16. Taro studies active galactic nuclei with his advisor, Professor Richard Mushotzky. Approximately 40,000 doctoral students are studying at Maryland and only 10 Graduate Dean's Dissertation Fellowships were awarded. Another graduate student, Maxime Rizzo, has won a Wylie Dissertation Award. Maxime studies star formation with his advisor, Professor Lee Mundy. Last but not least, Arnab Dhabal has been awarded the Kulkarni Summer Research Fellowship For Summer 2015. Congratulations to all of you!

  • Dr. Hiroya Yamaguchi, an assistant research scientist in the astronomy department who is based out of NASA/Goddard, is part of a team of researchers who analyzed archival observations of a supernova remnant named 3C 397. Using this data from the Japan-led Suzaku X-ray satellite, they tracked the remnant all the way back to the pre-explosion mass of the white dwarf that it came from. For more information about this discovery, check out the CMNS news release and GSFC release Suzaku Studies Supernova 'Crime Scene,' Shows a Single White Dwarf to Blame.

March 2015

  • A Joint Space Science Center (JSI) mini-symposium will be held in PSC 1136 on Apr. 3 from 11:30am-5:30pm, bringing together researchers from the Departments of Astronomy and Physics and from NASA/Goddard. The symposium is titled "Energetic Particles". The speakers will include Alice Harding, Steven Christe, Richard Mushotzky, Judy Racusin, Alan Tylka, Eun-Suk Seo, Yi-Hsin Liu, Simona Giacintucci, & Roman Gold. For more information, see the above link.

  • Congratulations to Francesco Tombesi, Marcio Meléndez, Sylvain Veilleux, Chris Reynolds and colleagues, whose paper "Wind from the black hole accretion disk driving a molecular outflow in an active galaxy," is featured as the cover story in the journal Nature. The study provides the first observational evidence that a supermassive black hole at the center of a large galaxy can power huge outflows of molecular gas from deep inside the galaxy's core. For more information, check out the CMNS release Supermassive Black Hole Clears Star-making Gas From Galaxy's Core as well as this Washington Post article The blasts of black hole winds may cut off galactic star formation.

  • Distinguished University Professor James Drake (Physics) co-authored the paper "Magnetized jets driven by the sun: the structure of the heliosphere revisited," which was published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. The research suggests that the sun's magnetic field controls the large-scale shape of the heliosphere much more than expected. Professor Drake is the Director of the Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), a research partnership between UMD's Departments of Astronomy and Physics and NASA/Goddard. For more information, check out the CMNS release A New View of the Solar System: Astrophysical Jets Driven by the Sun.

  • The UMD Observatory and GRAD-MAP are using LaunchUMD, the crowdfunding platform for the University of Maryland, to raise funds for an all-sky camera from now through April 7. The camera will take an image of the sky frequently (every 30 or so seconds) and then upload it for study and public viewing of meteors, satellites, sky quality and darkness, aurora, clouds, and even planes and wildlife. The effort is under the direction of Elizabeth Warner, the UMD Observatory Coordinator. More information on the campaign is available at LaunchUMD and the CMNS release Heads Up! You Can Help Build the Maryland All-Sky Camera Network, so please take a look!

  • Professor Suvi Gezari has won a 5-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for her proposal "Probing the Demographics of Supermassive Black Holes with Time-Domain Observations of Tidal Disruption Events". The award provides over $800,000 in funding and is one of the National Science Foundation's most prestigious honors. CAREER awards support "the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education." Congratulations, Suvi!

February 2015

  • The UMD observatory and the Observatory Coordinator, Elizabeth Warner, were featured in an article in the Diamondback. The article walks through a typical night at one of the observatory's bi-monthly open houses, which feature a lecture portion and an opportunity to look through several of their telescopes. For more information on the UMD Observatory or their open house program, check out the Observatory's website.

  • The UMD Observatory on Metzerott Rd. held a special event on Nov. 20, 2014 to celebrate 50 years of public open houses. The observatory, which was built in 1963 and dedicated in Nov. 1964, now receives around 2,000 visitors per year. Dr. John Trasco, the former Associate Director of the Department of Astronomy, gave a talk on the observatory's trials and successes over its long history. The talk was followed up by cake and the traditional public viewings through the telescopes. Dr. Trasco's talk is available on YouTube.

January 2015

  • On Jan. 9, Observatory Director Elizabeth Warner and student intern Clayton Smith successfully used the UMD Observatory's new occultation camera to detect the blocking of a star by a passing asteroid named (489) Comacina. They submitted their data to the International Occultation Timing Association, which incorporated their results (#5) into a final report. Asteroid occultations are useful for measuring the size and position of asteroids. Clayton and several other students will be observing and reporting further occultations at the observatory this semester.

  • The Planetary Science Research Discoveries website for NASA's Cosmochemistry program has made a CosmoSparks report based on graduate student Maggie McAdam and Professor Jessica Sunshine's recent publication in Icarus. Their article links the mineralogy and spectroscopy of CM and CI chondrites to aqueous alteration on asteroids.

  • Congratulations to Michael A'Hearn, Dennis Bodewits and IPST's Murthy Gudipati, who collectively co-authored four of the seven papers featured in this week's special issue of Science dedicated to the Rosetta mission. Three of the papers, co-authored by Drs. A'Hearn and Bodewits, focus on the structural details of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's nucleus and coma. A fourth paper, co-authored by Dr. Gudipati, provides a detailed analysis of the organic matter present on the surface of the comet's nucleus. For more information, check out the CMNS release Rosetta Data Give Closest-ever Look at a Comet.

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