News from the Department (2017)

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December 2017

  • Dr. James Ulvestad, University of Maryland alumnus (Ph.D. '81), will be serving as the first Chief Officer for Research Facilities (CORF) for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Ulvestad's role is critical to the development and maintenance of the very research infrastructure which makes scientific innovation possible. "[The position] requires responsiveness to the scientific community and accountability to the public and its elected representatives. I can think of no one more suited to assume this role than Dr. James Ulvestad," remarks NSF Director France A. Córdova. To find out more about the new position and how it will strengthen scientific research refer to the NSF article. Congratulations James!

  • "If the conditions are right, and you can see the night sky, it is probably the best meteor shower of the year. So, grab some hot cocoa and get some sleeping bags," remarks doctoral student of the astronomy department, Beverly Thackeray, on the Geminid meteor shower which peaks at 9:00pm tonight into Thursday morning. The spectacular light show is attributed to the asteroid called (3200) Phaethon and its close approach to the sun. Associate research scientists Matthew Knight and Michael Kelley will use the opportunity to study the asteroid using the Discovery Channel telescope. Aside from lighting up the sky in a brilliant display, the B-type classification of the asteroid indicates potential for organic molecules which could shed light on the existence of water and life on our planet. "That's a pretty profound thing in geology. It's one of the holy grails of planetary science - finding where water came from," says Sam Crossley, a doctoral student in planetary geology working with Professor Jessica Sunshine. To find out more about the B-type asteroid and how to view the Geminids see the Washington Post article.

  • A team of astronomers including UMD Associate research scientist Edward Shaya, developed the most detailed map of the orbits of galaxies within the local supercluster. The Dynamic motions captured extend all the way back to 13 billion years providing unprecedented insight into the structure of our super cluster and how it has transformed. To see the amazing 3D representation of galaxy orbits within the supercluster refer to the Astronomy Magazine article.

  • "The composition of WASP-18b defies all expectations," says University of Maryland Graduate student and NASA Goddard affiliate, Kyle Sheppard, lead author of the paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "We don't know of any other extrasolar planet where carbon monoxide so completely dominates the upper atmosphere." Learn more about this mysterious "hot Jupiter" and the study of this gas giant from the NASA and Newsweek press releases.

  • The possibilities of life have expanded along with our knowledge of potential hidden oceans preserved underneath of the surface of large trans-Neptunian objects from tidal heating thanks to a study led by NASA Goddard affiliate Prabal Saxena and co-authored by Wade Henning of Nasa Goddard and the University of Maryland. To hear more about the exciting discovery and what that means for the prevalence of water and life beyond our solar system refer to the CMNS publication.

November 2017

  • Congratulations to Dr. Hiroya Yamaguchi (Lead author) and Dr. Mike Loewenstein (co-author) and their collaborators who observed the Perseus cluster in unprecedented detail and who's findings were published in nature. The Perseus cluster was found to have the same chemical composition and distribution as our own Sun much to the surprise of the scientists studying the cluster. The discovery was facilitated by the precision of the high-resolution Soft X-ray Spectrometer. To discover more about the Perseus cluster refer to the CMNS press release.

  • Of the 13 proposals which were approved out of a pool of 106 for the highly selective JWST Director's Discretionary Early Release Science Program (DD-ERS), two of the programs contain Astronomy's very own research scientists and professors including Sylvain Veilleux, Co-PI on the project entitled, "Q-3D: Imaging Spectroscopy of Quasar Hosts with JWST Analyzed with a Powerful New PSF Decomposition and Spectral Analysis Package" and Mark Wolfire, one of the lead investigators of another proposal studying, "Radiative Feedback from Massive Stars as Traced by Multiband Imaging and Spectroscopic Mosaics."

October 2017

  • UMD research scientists win the Aspen Institute Italia Award 2017 for their pioneering research on black holes and galaxy formation. The award-winning paper, "Wind from the black hole accretion disk driving a molecular outflow in an active galaxy," was led by assistant research scientist Francesco Tombesi, and co-authored by research scientist Marcio B. Meléndez and professors Sylvain Veilleux, and Christopher S. Reynolds. Featured on the cover of Nature, the paper discusses how the wind of black holes affect the evolution of their host galaxies. Congratulations Francesco, Marcio, Sylvain and Christopher!

  • University of Maryland researchers participated in the historic detection of gravitational waves, electromagnetic signals and observed a kilonova in unprecedented detail as they witnessed two neutron star mergers! Alongside other scientists across the country, members of the Astronomy Department including Eleonora Troja (assistant research scientist and lead author of the Nature paper), Sylvain Veilleux (professor), Alexander Kutyrev (associate research scientist) and Goddard affiliates Brad Cenko (adjunct assistant professor) and Leo Singer (post-doctoral associate), took part in the study and capture of this incredible phenomenon. To hear more about this extraordinary event refer to the article from The Baltimore Sun and the press release on the CMNS website. Congratulations to our scientists!

  • Congratulations to Principal Research Scientist, A. Surjalal Sharma, who was recognized as a 2017 APS Fellow. The prestigious fellowship is awarded to scientists who have made significant contributions to physics research and honors Dr. Sharma for his, "pioneering and sustained contributions to nonlinear dynamical modeling of non-equilibrium phenomena in space physics and to the development of data-enabled science and for his leadership in fostering international collaborations." To find out more about this honor and Dr. Sharma's contributions refer to the CMNS press release.

  • Congratulations to the students of Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke's ASTR 315: Astronomy in Practice (Spring 2017) class whose papers were published in the Minor Planet Bulletin, volume 44, number 4. The publication features the observational studies of the asteroids 2142 Landau, 2504 Gaviola, 4404 Enirac and 138404 (near-Earth asteroid) where students constructed phase plots from photometric measurements to determine the rotational periods of the asteroids. Their analysis of asteroid 1969 Alain will also be featured in the December issue. To discover more about these asteroids and the student findings refer to the Minor Planet Bulletin.

  • Junellie Gonzalez Quiles, astronomy and physics double major and co-president of the astroterps, joins fellow student Gabriela Anglada and the Students for Puerto Rico Campaign in raising money for the island that was recently devastated by Hurricane Maria. Quiles and Anglada will continue to hold fundraisers on campus and host a venmo page for donations to support Puerto Rico in the wake of the natural disaster. To join in their efforts and find out more, please see the article fromThe Diamondback.

September 2017

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Richard Mushotzky, former graduate student Mike Koss (M.S.'07, Ph.D. '11, astronomy), and their collaborators whose paper, "The close environments of accreting massive black holes are shaped by radiative feedback," was published this week in Nature. The study provides an explanation for the observed differences in the spectral fingerprints of Type I and Type II active galactic nuclei. For more information on their discovery, refer to the CMNS press release.

  • Congratulations to Naoki Bessho, Dennis Bodewits, Elizabeth Ferrara, Tilak Hewagama, Silvia Protopapa, and Hiroya Yamaguchi who have been promoted to Associate Research Scientist and to Brian Hicks, and Theresa Jaffe who have been promoted to Assistant Research Scientist.

  • Congratulations to research scientist Haihong Che for winning the first Renè Pellat Memorial Festival Prize ever granted. The award recognizes Che for her contributions in plasma physics particularly in her outstanding work on elucidate fundamental plasma interactions. To hear more about Che's research and contributions to the field see the IRFM article.

  • Congratulations to Dr. Drake Deming and his collaborators whose paper, "An ultrahot gas-giant exoplanet with a stratosphere," was published this week in Nature. The researchers studied the atmosphere of WASP-121b, a gas giant exoplanet commonly referred to as a "hot Jupiter". The scientists observed an infrared glow of water molecules indicating the presence of a stratosphere. For more information on the discovery, refer to the CMNS press release.

  • 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 conference on "Cosmic Accelerators: Understanding Nature's High-energy Particles and Radiation." The workshop will take place on November 6-9, in Annapolis, Maryland. For more information, see the JSI webpage.

August 2017

  • Congratulations to Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Eleonora Troja who was awarded observing time on Chandra, NASA's flagship X-ray telescope, and Hubble. Troja's success will allow her and other scientists to observe and understand a kilonova, a rare event resulting from the collision of two neutron stars.

  • The observing session hosted at the Physical Science Complex (PSC) for the Monday August 21, 2017 solar eclipse was a huge success! Over 1,000 individuals attended the event where guests had access to eclipse glasses, live streams, pinhole cameras, telescopes and a wealth of information. A special thank you to Dr. Alan Peel, Elizabeth Warner, and all the faculty and staff members, volunteers and participants who made the day possible! Missed out? Check out images of the event taken by Dr. Peter Teuben and Dr. Ian Richardson. The Washington Post also posted an interview with Prof. Andy Harris about the science behind the eclipse.

  • Under the supervision of eclipse expedition expert, Jay Pasachoff, Amy Steele and a group of students successfully viewed and documented the 2017 solar eclipse in Salem, Oregon. The team prepared for years to capture the eclipse and their efforts were not in vain. Discover more about their observations and preparations from the Los Angeles Times article.

  • Congratulations to our Research Scientists, Dennis Bodewits, Tony Farnham, Mike Kelley, and Silvia Protopapa who were awarded observing time on Chandra, NASA's flagship X-ray telescope, and Hubble. Their success will allow them to observe comet 46P/Wirtanen to study it's activity and interaction with the solar wind while it is very close to Earth. .

July 2017

  • Congratulations to Dr. Eleonora Troja and her team whose paper, "Significant and variable linear polarization during the prompt optical flash of GRB 160625B," was published this week in Nature. The researchers studied a gamma ray burst event named GRB160625B in unprecedented detail providing new insight on the driving mechanism behind the initial "prompt" phase of a GRB. For more information on the discovery, refer to the CMNS press release.

June 2017

  • Welcome Dr. Andrew Harris as the new Chair of the Astronomy Department. Dr. Harris succeeds Dr. Stuart Vogel as chair and has been serving the University of Maryland Astronomy Department since 1997. For more information on our new chair and his research, see the CMNS department web article.

  • Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, Undergraduate Director and Advisor of the Astronomy Department, is featured in an article of The Chronicle of Higher Education. See what she has to say and the full article on The Chronicle's website.

  • Senior astronomy student Christopher Bambic has been selected as a 2017-2018 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar. This highly prestigious honor recognizes Chris' academic achievement as well as the guidance of his mentor, Dr. Chris Reynolds. To learn more about this program and other CMNS student awardees, see the Merrill Scholars website and the CMNS article. Congratulations Christopher and Dr. Reynolds!

  • Graduate student Thomas Rimlinger and alumnus Nicholas Zube receive the 2017 NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. The fellowship will fund their continuing research- Rimlinger's study on the origins of Titan and Hyperion and Zube's study of accretion scenarios with hafnium/tungsten ratios to explain the formation of the earth and moon. For the full story see the article on the CMNS website. Congratulations Thomas and Nicholas!

  • Alumna Lisa Mazzuca (Ph.D. '06) has been selected as a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, a prestigious government service award. The award would honor her life-saving work in search-and-rescue systems. For more information see the NASA press release. Congratulations Lisa!

May 2017

  • Assistant research scientist, Dr. Eleonora Troja, received the Young Scientist Award provided by the Italian Cultural Society. The award is granted to a distinguished Italian scientist working in the D.C. area and recognizes Troja's prominent work on galactic gamma-rays bursts. Congratulations Eleonora!

  • 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. See also his obituaries in UMD RightNow and the Washington Post.)

April 2017

  • Assistant Research Scientist Dennis Bodewits was honored with an asteroid named after him (10033 Bodewits) at the international 'asteroids, comets, and meteoroids' 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-Kresák, 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. Learn more at the AXIS website.

  • 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, see the Space Daily and Phys.Org stories.

  • 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-Kresák 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! To learn more about the cooperative agreement and its mission see the CMNS announcement.

  • 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 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. To learn more about Dr. Gehrels and his invaluable contributions to the astronomy field, see the CMNS publication.

  • Assistant Professor Suvi Gezari's paper on quasars was featured in AAS Nova. She and a team of scientists discovered that quasar 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.

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