News from the Department (2021)

Department of Astronomy RSS Feed

December 2021

  • Tim Livengood reports on a paper in ApJ led by his master's student Roderick de Cock (TU Delft), and including Tilak Hewegama and Drake Deming: "Terrestrial Planet Optical Phase Curves: I. Direct Measurements of the Earth." Roderick carried on analysis of data from the EPOXI extended mission of Deep Impact, showing that Earth behaves as a Lambertian scattering sphere (as usually assumed) in equatorial views, but not in polar view. He is working on a follow-up paper exploring the ability to deduce global properties using a simplified exoplanet model. Roderick completed his Master's at TU Delft in July under Tim's supervision and is now employed at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy as deputy system engineer on a flight instrument under development.

  • The print version of the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics is out now, with two reviews from UMD people: "Tidal Disruption Events" by Suvi Gezari, and "Observational Constraints on Black Hole Spin" by Chris Reynolds.

  • Congratulations to Jason Schuster, with colleagues Naoki Bessho, Shan Wang, and Jonathan Ng, for their paper accepted and selected as an Editor's Pick for Physics of Plasmas in an MMS special issue. "Electron-scale temperature gradients in kinetic equilibrium: MMS observations and Vlasov-Maxwell solutions" appears in the journal. An image from the paper is also slated to be the cover image. For those of us unfamiliar with plasma physics, the AIP SciLight: "Collisionless plasmas can achieve kinetic equilibrium in the presence of temperature gradients" provides an overview of the article and why the new equilibrium state Jason and co. find is surprising.

  • Out last week from Benedikt Diemer: "A dynamics-based density profile for dark haloes. I. Algorithm and basic results"

  • Cole Miller reports two recent papers on GRB afterglows from one of our undergrads, Delina Levine,who was in ASTR 120/121 with Cole and is a double major in physics:
    Delina also did a little independent study with Cole this spring in which she implemented a fourth-order Runge-Kutta and used it to analyze systems with different central forces and also binaries with lowest-order gravitational radiation.

  • Surja Sharma gave a presentation at the Monday Online Plasma Seminar Series that Jason Schuster organizes about the 'digital twin' for modeling Earth's magnetospheric dynamics and improving overall space weather prediction capabilities. His presentation "Data-driven Modeling of the magnetosphere: The Complex Systems Perspective" is on YouTube.

November 2021

  • The DART mission had a successful launch and the satellite is on its way! From the Washington Post: "Tuesday's launch at 10:21 p.m. Pacific time - 1:21 a.m. Wednesday on the East Coast - saw a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lift off from Vandenberg Space Force base in California. On its tip it carries a refrigerator-sized spacecraft that will fly 6.7 million miles, hunting a small asteroid about the size of a football stadium before going kamikaze and crashing into it at 15,000 mph, likely next September." From news and its website information, it seems it took off within the first minute of its first launch window. The NASA launch program video shows the spacecraft separating from the launch vehicle at T+55:45, just about 2 hours into the video (Washington Post has a shorter summary video). Derek Richardson reports that the solar panels unfurled properly, so this part of the mission seems to have been a complete success.
    DART got quite a lot of media attention, even reaching something of an attention pinnacle few other missions enjoy with an entire "Brewster Rockit -- Space Guy" strip devoted to it in the Post's Sunday funnies section. (Spoiler alert! in the last panel, Dr. Mel has put Winky into a cannon to shoot him into Dimorphos too.)

  • A paper titled "Early Activity in Comet C/2014 UN271 Bernardinelli-Bernstein as Observed by TESS" by Tony Farnham, Michael Kelley and Gerbs Bauer appears today (Mon 29 Nov). Read the CMNS release New Study Shows the Largest Comet Ever Observed was Active at Near-Record Distance and the MarylandToday article New Study Shows Largest-Known Comet Was Active at Near-Record Distance.
    It involves the comet that was discovered a few months ago, that made it into the news primarily for having the largest nucleus of any known comet. The paper describes how they used techniques Tony developed for TESS observations to show that comet B-B already exhibited a persistent coma in 2018 and 2020, at heliocentric distances of 23.8 au (which is the second largest inbound distance for which direct evidence for activity has been observed) and 21.2 au. They also used a crude analysis of the coma to show that it was likely active for several years before that, possibly from a heliocentric distance as large as 30 au. This observation suggests that the activity is driven by carbon monoxide, which is the only one of the three primary species (along with water and carbon dioxide) that has significant sublimation at such large distances. Activity in B-B suggests that comets may become active significantly earlier than previously thought, but because they are faint, they are simply not discovered until much closer to the sun.

  • The JWST press release Webb Primed to Lift the Haze Surrounding Sub-Neptunes describes two programs that Astronomy's Dr. Eliza Kempton will be leading and co-leading.

  • Derek Richardson was interviewed for the CBC Radio Canada science program Quirks ∓ Quarks! A recording of the broadcast NASA is smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to test a planetary defence system is available.

  • NASA has extended support for the UMD-led Small Bodies Node of the NASA Planetary Data System with the signing of a $32.5 million cooperative agreement. The Planetary Data System program ensures that data collected on NASA missions is cataloged, archived and made publicly accessible for future studies. The Small Bodies Node, which is led by Astronomy's James Bauer (Gerbs), is the branch of that system that houses data on asteroids, comets, meteorites and other small objects in space. Read the CMNS release $32.5M Cooperative Agreement Between NASA and UMD Expands Public Access to Data on Comets, Asteroids and Other Small Bodies and the Maryland Today article.

  • Clarivate has published their Highly Cited Researchers 2021 list and Astronomy's Dr. Alberto Bolatto along with several other CMNS researchers appears on the list. Congratulations!

  • NRAO's press release expressing its pleasure with the Decadal Survey's support of the ngVLA includes this commentary from Alberto Bolatto, co-chair of the ngVLA Science Advisory Council:
    "The high scientific priority given to the ngVLA reflects the breadth and depth of the science that it makes possible, from the formation of exoplanets, to testing relativity using pulsars and black holes, to the study of some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe. This high ranking is a strong endorsement, and it opens the door to the U.S. continuing its leadership in radio astronomy and thus astrophysics as a whole for decades to come."

  • Congratulations to Jordan Ealy and Katya Leidig for winning this year's Angerhofer TA award. From the selection committee: "The faculty wished to emphasize that they were impressed that all TAs had unusually high scores on the course evaluations, which is evidence of their hard work teaching well during the pandemic. The decision about the TA Prize was very difficult this year." The Undergraduate TA award recipient is Audrey Grace Mellott. All of our TAs upheld the department's high teaching standards, which was an especially important part of keeping the University's undergraduate population engaged in learning during a particularly difficult year for everyone -- thanks to you all.

  • Falling right before Halloween, this year's Annual Assembly featured costumes and treats along with a talent show, announcement of TA awards and more mundane State of the Department and Plan of Organization updates.

October 2021

  • Congratulations to David Bennett and Aparna Bhattacharya, co-authors of a research paper announcing the discovery of the first known planet circling a white dwarf in a Jupiter-like orbit. The paper was published today in the journal Nature. Their discovery provides the first evidence that larger planets in more distant orbits around stars like our sun can survive their sun's demise. Until now, scientists had only simulated such systems. The article appears as a CMNS feature New Discovery Offers a Glimpse of Our Solar System's Potential Fate when the Sun Dies and Maryland Today item.

  • Congratulations to Weizhe Liu, this year's winner of the Wilson Prize for Excellence in Research. This is awarded in early fall to a graduate student nearing completion of the Ph. D. dissertation who demonstrates the high standards for research and scholarship exemplified by our former Professor Andrew S. Wilson. Choosing an awardee from this year's group of highly qualified applicants was difficult, and was a reminder of the truly excellent work going on throughout the department.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Laura Lenkić, who defended her PhD thesis titled "Gas and Star Formation at the Peak of Cosmic Star Forming Activity" last Friday, October 8. Laura is off to a postdoctoral position with the Stratospheric Observatory for Far-Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) in California. Congratulations Laura!!

  • The Lucy probe is slated to launch this week, and as a mission Science Co-I Jessica Sunshine has been contributing to explaining the science goals of the mission -- see Tour of Jupiter's Trojans could reveal Solar System's chaotic origin for a description of its tasks in visiting a number of the Trojan asteroids. She'll also be at the launch this week in person, not virtually. Will she be asked to press the big red button to launch the rocket? Probably not, but it would be fun if she had the chance!

  • Recently appeared in Planetary Sci. J. from Anne Raugh, an analysis of the most recent data structure format for storing planetary science data, PDS4, optimized for the long-term preservation of observational data; see The Road to an Archival Data Format-Data Structures Anne Raugh and J. Steven Hughes 2021 PSJ 2:204

  • Harrison Agrusa's latest work on DART (now available on Icarus) was also featured as part of a podcast (starting around the 10m 10s mark).

September 2021

  • Dean Varshney has agreed to continue the college's support of the Joint Space Science Institute (JSI, don't ask me what happened to the other S) for another three years. JSI is a collaboration between UMD Astronomy, Physics, CMNS, and the Astrophysics Branch at GSFC. Among other things, it sponsors the Gehrels JSI Fellows and an annual international meeting.

  • Congratulations to Dr. Gerbs Bauer, the head of NASA's Planetary Data System Small Bodies Node, who has just been selected as Vice-chair of the International Planetary Data Alliance (IPDA). The IPDA is a worldwide partnership of closely cooperating organizations dedicated to maintaining the quality, performance and utility of data derived from planetary spaceflight missions and planetary research.

  • Congratulations to Harrison Agrusa, who led a paper (also with Derek Richardson and Yun Zhang) that was covered in this recent article "NASA is going to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid. Things might get chaotic" in MIT Tech Review. The article gives a nice summary of the chaotic spinning that is likely to grow in Dart's target moon after impact. The spinning could become so extreme that the moon flies apart, even.

  • Our BANG (Better Astronomy for the New Generation) seminars kick off in earnest this Thursday (9 Sep) at 4:00, also on Zoom, with topic "Panel: Applying for Postdoc and Fellowship Positions." The panel, consisting of current postdocs, fellows, faculty, and members of post-doc hiring committees, will answer questions and discuss applying to postdoctoral positions in astronomy, the transition between graduate school and postdoctoral studies, or general tricks and tips about these positions.
    BANG is an important series for graduate student professional development, and I encourage all grad students and, when the topic is appropriate, faculty and postdocs to join the sessions. Topics include job paths of various kinds, grad student mental health and lifestyle issues, working in research groups and with research advisors, and other items that fall outside typical academic subjects. The series is a key way to support our graduate students, and to help them support each other. Keep an eye on the topics in the weekly seminars calendar email (also sent out every Monday at 8, so it arrives in your inbox with my Monday message), on our seminars web page, or in the email announcements from Katya Leidig; many thanks to Katya for leading the organization this year. I'll also be highlighting topics I think are of interest to the department in general.

  • Congratulations to Dr. Patricia (Trish) Henning as "NRAO names new assistant director for New Mexico operations." Dr. Henning is a 1990 Astronomy alum.

August 2021

  • Congratulations to Gabe Grell, whose paper titled "Fe XVII 2p-3s line ratio diagnostic of shock formation radius in O stars" has now appeared in ApJ. Gabe looked at anomalous line ratios in Fe XVII to explore the influence of UV pumping on deductions of the plasma radius and excitation around a hot star.
    And congratulations to Astronomy's Quanzhi Ye, who led a paper including Michael Kelley titled "Disintegration of Long-period Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). I. Hubble Space Telescope Observations" that appeared in AJ recently. They used HST to identify a comet that disintegrated into a cascade of small icy pieces in mid-2020 was the remnant of a comet that first streaked through the night sky 5,000 years ago. Read the CMNS release Comet ATLAS May Have Been a Blast from the Past.

  • First- and second-year grad students, from left to right: Katya Leidig, Jordan Ealy, Jonathan Williams, Arjun, Gokul Srinivasaragavan, photo bomber, Emma Mirizio, Erika Hoffman, Calvin Osinga, Ell Bogat, Amanda Broadmeadow, Serena Cronin, Michaela Blain (photo credit Liz Tarantino)Best wishes to everyone as we launch into the Fall 2021 semester! No one knows quite how this is going to unfold, but intentions are high to make this all work well. I have no doubt that we will do well whatever challenges materialize -- we certainly have carried on splendidly over the past 17 months and more since mid-March 2020. Our previous Provost was very good about communicating guesses of what the future might hold, which I've tried to pass along to all of you, and the new Provost seems to be heading in the same direction. It is a tricky balance for her, of course, since not only is the future unclear, but there are many forces inside and outside the university that determine any decisions.

  • Congratulation to Chongchong He, whose paper "A Fast and Accurate Analytic Method of Calculating Galaxy Two-point Correlation Functions" was accepted by ApJ!

  • Gerbs Bauer relays the excellent news that Small Bodies Node passed its Program Review, and its cooperative agreement is to be renewed. Details are in the works with NASA. Gerbs leads this node of the Planetary Data System, which archives and provides data on asteroids and comets to the scientific community and public. There was no reason at all to expect problems from the review, but it required considerable thought and effort to prepare a solid case for the reviewers, and it is always a relief when the review goes off well. The node has been growing under Gerbs leadership, and the review's results are confirmation that the node is on the right track moving forward. Thanks to all members of the SBN for contributing to the review, with particular thanks to Ludmilla Kolokolova, Anne Raugh, Mona Susanto, and of course Gerbs. Congratulations to all not only for the review, but for the node's success!

  • Alum news: Former grad student Kartik Sheth will be moving from his position as a Program Scientist at NASA HQ to the White House to work there for at least a year (and probably longer). His title will be Assistant Director for Research Infrastructures and Science Equity, part of the Science and Society Division which is led by Alondra Nelson at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Pretty cool!
    And former student Ron Ballouz (about to start work at APL!), along with other alums Kevin Walsh, Steve Schwartz, and Yun Zhang and non-alum Derek Richardson, has a paper accepted by MNRAS based on his thesis work. The paper covers modeling of the sample collector (TAGSAM) of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

  • Please extend your congratulations to new doctors Sara Frederick, Kyle Sheppard, Ginny Cunningham, and Becca Levy! They all recently defended their PhD theses and are headed off for cool postdocs! Sara (From Tantrums to Transformations: AGN Transients Discovered with ZTF) and Kyle (Revealing Unique Exoplanet Atmospheres with Multi-Instrument Space Telescope Transit and Eclipse Spectroscopy) defended their theses on July 26, Ginny (Broadband Observations of Gamma-ray Bursts and Fast Radio Bursts: Energetics, Afterglows, and Physical Origins) defended on July 27, and Becca (Investigating Star Formation Feedback through Gas Kinematics in Nearby Galaxies) defended on 2 Aug. Congratulations to all!

July 2021

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Tomas Ahumada and a team of researchers from UMD for their paper, Discovery and Confirmation of the Shortest Gamma-ray Burst from a Collapsar. Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) have conventionally been categorized by their duration, with long bursts associated with collapsing stars and short bursts associated with neutron star mergers.
    This work, which was led by Tomas and included a long list of international organizations, presents evidence for the first short GRB detected from a collapsing star, suggesting that GRBs can no longer be classified by their duration alone. Read the CMNS release UMD-led Study Reveals a 'Fizzled' Gamma-ray Burst.

  • Eliza Kempton talks about sub-Neptune GJ 1214 b, the target of one of her JWST observing programs mentioned in the AGU's EOS article Overture to Exoplanets.

  • Congratulations to the 45 Astronomy students who made the Spring 2021 Dean's list! Read the CMNS release Dean's List: Spring 2021.

  • Congratulations to Sylvain Veilleux, who received the excellent news that he has been awarded 25 orbits of HST observations for his program titled "The Impact of Radio-Mode Feedback on the Circumgalactic Medium of Centaurus A." The oversubscription rate this cycle was apparently just above 8:1. Review the full list of projects, including in previous cycles.

  • CRESST II started a "Scientist of the Month" drawing, and Ell Bogat was chosen to be the scientist featured for July. This is a nice introduction to one of our incoming grad students!

June 2021

  • Congratulations to the three 2021 Hollings Scholars from CMNS:
    • Siobhan Light, geology and astronomy dual-degree student>
    • Yulia Lim, biological sciences & government and politics dual-degree student
    • Eric Robinson, computer science and geographical sciences dual-degree student
    Forty-seven UMD students-24 from CMNS-have been awarded Hollings Scholarships since 2009. Hollings Scholars receive up to $19,000 over two years, as well as professional development opportunities including a 10-week paid summer internship at a NOAA facility the summer after their junior year. The Hollings Scholarship program is designed to prepare recipients for public service careers with NOAA and other natural resource and science agencies at all levels of government and for careers as educators in oceanic and atmospheric science. Read the CMNS release Three Science Terps Awarded 2021 NOAA Hollings Scholarships.

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Maitraiyee Tiwari and her co-authors Ramsey Karim, Marc Pound, Mark Wolfire and Xander Tielens for their paper published today in The Astrophysical Journal. The team led a study that used NASA's SOFIA telescope to capture high-resolution details of a star nursery in the Milky Way. Their work created the first high-resolution image of an expanding bubble of hot plasma and ionized gas where stars are born. Previous low-resolution images did not clearly show the bubble or reveal how it expanded into the surrounding gas. The paper appears in this CMNS release First Clear View of a Boiling Cauldron Where Stars are Born, LiveScience article Boiling 'baby bubble' where stars are born comes into view and article Boiling 'baby bubble' where stars are born comes into view.

  • Mike Kelley reports on an unusually large and unusually active comet that he played a role in discovering and initial characterization. .C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein). was discovered as a faint point source in a reprocessing of DECam data taken 2014-2018 at 29 to 23 au from the Sun. It appears to be a 100 km radius object, quite large. Pedro Bernardinelli is at UPenn, and his tweet thread nicely sums up the discovery. . Then two teams took new observations early last week and discovered that it was active at 20 au (CBET 4989). One team was a group of amateurs, and the other was a team where Mike is a co-PI. PanSTARRS has published their observations, and they are trying to piece together the lightcurve and understand when activity started. At a 100 km radius, this is one of the largest known Oort cloud comets, and once of the largest comets overall (similar to the largest active Centaurs). With perihelion in 2031 at 11 au from the Sun, we're expecting to have a 30+ year lightcurve on this single Oort cloud comet, giving us a rare view into cometary activity in the cold outer solar system.

  • Congratulations to our former grad student Hannah Krug, who let us know that she has won the inaugural Sweet STEM Instructorship at Holton Arms, where she teaches science and mathematics. The Sweet family instituted this award to encourage women to enter the STEM fields. Hannah was nominated by her peers for the exemplary work she has done in support of this goal. Congratulations, Hannah!

  • Congratulations to Chongchong He for winning a FINESST award to support his project "Multiscale Radiation-MHD Simulations of Compact Star Clusters and the Formation of Intermediate-Mass Black Holes." This will support him while he completes his thesis work with Massimo Ricotti. UMD students continue to do very well in winning these competitive fellowships -- congratulations again!

  • Cecilia Chirenti quoted in ScienceNews article "Gravitational waves confirm a black hole law predicted by Stephen Hawking"

  • The International Astronomical Union released its latest asteroid names, as determined by the WG Small Bodies Nomenclature. With the department members who already have asteroids (ok, minor planets) tagged with their names, we are almost at the stage where we will have our own named group! The latest distinctions go to:
    • Adeline Brodtke Gicquel (46208) Gicquel = 2001 FB160
    • Melissa Hayes-Gehrke (28788) Hayes-Gehrke = 2000 HW57

    and former students
    • Ron Ballouz (28594) Ronaldballouz = 2000 EF134
    • Maggie McAdam (27227) McAdam = 1999 GB48
    • Steve Schwartz (43081) Stephenschwartz = 1999 VA199

    and previous visitors
    • Yang Yu (Tsinghua U) (42175) Yuyang = 2001 CR21
    • Yun Zhang (Tsinghua U) (53537) Zhangyun = 2000 AZ239
    • Shoucun Hu (Purple Mountain Obs) (30228) Hushoucun = 2000 GO141

    It's great to see the recognition accorded them for their activities in the field -- please congratulate them as they fly by. Thanks to Alberto, Quanzhi, Derek, and Melissa for pointing out the new list and noting all the Maryland-affiliated people in it.

  • Congratulations to Joe DeMartini for winning a FINESST award in support of his project titled "Surface processes on low-gravity bodies with irregularly shaped particles." He'll continue working with Derek Richardson on this. The awards are very competitive, but our grad students have great success at winning them. Congratulations, Joe!

  • Congratulations to Gerbs Bauer for receiving a NASA Group Achievement Award for his participation in the Astrophysics Large Mission Study Team. The team has been deeply involved in preparing science cases for the Decadal Review, and Gerbs has been deeply involved in making some of the presentations. Congratulations, Gerbs!

  • Congratulations to Jonathan Williams and Richard Mushotzky for their research on a triple galaxy merger that caught the attention of the American Astronomical Society. The finding represents a rare opportunity to study multiple phenomena at once, including what may be two super-massive black holes, called active galactic nuclei, colliding. Jonathan gave an invited talk about this work at the 238th annual meeting of the AAS, which was held virtually. You can read more about this work in CMNS' article: Triple Galaxy Merger Sends Mixed Signals.

  • Congratulations to Richard Mushotzky who was recently named as a NASA-affiliated fellow by the AAS.

  • Visiting Principal Research Scientist John Carr reports that his paper "High-resolution Mid-infrared Spectroscopy of GV Tau N: Surface Accretion and Detection of NH3 in a Young Protoplanetary Disk" has attracted considerable attention, including being featured in AAS Nova. The noteworthy result of the paper is evidence for a different paradigm for accretion in protoplanetary disks: supersonic accretion flow along the disk surface. They infer this based on velocity-resolved MIR spectra of C2H2 and other molecules, which are all red-shifted with respect to the systemic velocity. The derived temperature and column densities are consistent with an origin in the disk atmosphere, but the lines are seen in absorption in the near edge-on disk in GV Tau N. This geometry "isolates" a limited portion of the disk along the line of sight, revealing the radial flow.

May 2021

  • Cole Miller continues to show up in articles relating to the NICER project. Most recently, he's quoted in Quanta Magazine's Squishy Neutron Star Setback Dampens Hopes of Exotic Matter.

  • The prizes committee met and selected the following department members for the annual prizes:
    • Postdoctoral Scientist Prize for Excellence -- Maitraiyee Tiwari. This award recognized Maitraiyee's excellent work on the SOFIA FEEDBACK project, including publication of the first major paper from this Large Program. Congratulations, Maitraiyee!

    • Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize -- Benedikt Diemer. Benedikt's nominations spoke glowingly of the clarity of his instruction in the ISM course, reflecting his careful preparation and care for the students. Congratulations, Benedikt!

    • Administrative Professional Staff Prize for Excellence -- Olivia Dent and John Cullinan. The committee grappled with this decision for quite a while, as there were a number of clearly worthy candidates. In the end it proved impossible to pick one, so the committee awarded two prizes. Both acknowledge the essential roles that Olivia and John have had in keeping the department running so smoothly through the pandemic. In addition, Olivia was praised for her support of our graduate students, and John for mastering campus' new graduate admissions system, which required heroic efforts to buffer the rest of us from the nightmare. Congratulations, Olivia and John!

    • Technical Professional Staff Prize for Excellence -- Mark Wolfire. Mark was cited for his care of the departmental computer network and support for many of us for years, and especially during the pandemic. He (and last year's awardee Kevin Rauch) have been a constant presence on campus to keep things going for us all. Congratulations, Mark!

    • Prize for Excellence in Mentoring -- Eliza Kempton. Eliza's nomination noted her strong and constant support of postdocs and students doing research with her. The committee also noted her activities in establishing an undergraduate peer mentoring program, as well as (with Stuart Vogel and Elizabeth Tarantino) a first-year grad student mentoring program. Congratulations, Eliza!

    Thanks also to this year's committee composed of recent winners: Erez, Matej, Tracy, Tilak, Kevin, Massimo, and Becca. Nominations are open always from and for all department members -- use it frequently!

  • Even more congratulations to Surja Sharma, recipient of much good news last week, for winning a Fulbright Fellowship. Surja will take his Fellowship in India once the pandemic allows, already with a number of lectures and interactions scheduled at different universities. Congratulations again, Surja!

  • Congratulations to Surja Sharma and Natalie Rowe for their parts in the successful proposal that extends our cooperative agreement in space science (heliospheric physics, space weather, Earth magnetosphere, etc.) with Goddard and other partners. The new PHaSER (Partnership for Heliospheric and Space Environment Research) agreement is an expanded version of the GPHI cooperative agreement -- it brings together most of the local universities and organizations with activities in the space sciences to support research at Goddard. Congratulations, Surja and Natalie!

  • CMNS announces the signing of a $178M cooperative agreement with NASA to continue the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II (CRESST II) partnership through 2027.
    Directed by Astronomy's Lee Mundy, CRESST II is a partnership that fosters and supports research collaborations between NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and four universities.

  • Astronomy is pleased to announce that Tad Komacek will be joining the department as an Assistant Professor on August 1. Many of you will remember the faculty search for an exoplanetist that was upended with the beginning of the pandemic. A recent thaw in the hiring freeze allowed us to pick up where we left off, and Tad has agreed to join us. Tad is a theorist whose main research is in global circulation models for atmospheres of Hot Jupiters and other exoplanets. He is currently a 51 Pegasi b Fellow at the University of Chicago. Without wasting any time, Tad will arrive in August, and will tackle ASTR380 for the Fall semester.
    Thanks to everyone for joining in the rather unusual search process (the inauguration of our online colloquia, and lots of video chats!), and especially to the search committee of Drake, Eliza, Sylvain, Becca, and Barbara. We also had very thoughtful input from many of the grad students and research faculty.

  • Cole Miller's APS press release attracted a lot of attention, and he spent a good deal of time recently explaining it. This is a NICER result measuring the diameter of the heaviest known neutron star. The star's large size implies that the core has a very stiff core, providing limits on the equation of state for neutron star cores. They also found a complex magnetic field, leading to radiating hotspots distributed far from symmetrically on the star's surface.
    In addition to these press releases where you can read more:

    Cole also appeared on a number of talk shows and television interviews:
    • Radio: KPBS (San Diego, California, taped)

    • Television: Action News Jax (Jacksonville, Florida, live); KTBC Fox 7 (Austin, Texas, live); WZZM13 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, taped); KTVT (Forth Worth, Texas, taped); KTTV (Los Angeles, California, live).

    It's good to see that there is so much public interest in astronomy, and that UMD's name is associated with exciting things!

April 2021

  • Congratulations to astronomy Ph.D. student Rebecca Levy for being awarded one of the National Science Foundation's prestigious Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship. "I'm looking forward to the independence in the research. I'm really excited about the projects I proposed and I'm ready to jump right in," Levy said of the opportunity. You can read about Levy and her research in the CMNS release Astronomy Ph.D. Student Awarded Prestigious NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship.

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Cole Miller, whose research was featured in a NASA media announcement at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society held virtually on Saturday. Cole led one of two teams that used NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) to measure the radius of the most massive neutron star known. Their measurements reveal that the inner cores of neutron stars are more compressible than current physics models predict. Cole's work is forcing scientists to reconsider previous assumptions about the nature of matter inside neutron stars. You can read more about this work in CMNS' article: NASA's NICER Probes the 'Squeezability' of Neutron Stars

  • Congratulations to Astronomy majors Hena Imran and Christine (Chris) Egan! Hena and Chris, who will join us in the fall, were accepted to L'SPACE Academy for one of the summer sessions. This is an unpaid program associated with the Lucy mission, and it was planned to be virtual even before the pandemic. Students participate in one of two academies for 12 weeks: Mission Concept Academy or the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy.

  • Congratulations to UMD faculty for PI or co-PI time awards in Cycle 1 GO. Looking at the list, I found Drake Deming (2), Eliza Kempton (2), Alberto Bolatto, Sylvain Veilleux (2), Mike Kelley (2), and Mark Wolfire (2). Also some former department members as PIs or co-PIs: Mike McDonald, Conor Nixon, Tea Temim, and Thomas Shimizu. All and their colleagues are now waiting for data to pour in once the simple formalities of launch, unfolding and unfurling, cruise to L2, cooling, and checkout are knocked off the list.

  • The Atlantic quoted Dr Ludmilla Kolokolova in their article An Interstellar Visitor Had a Sad Story to Tell. She also did a number of other interviews.

  • Congratulations to Chongchong He, who has been awarded an Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship. The Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship supports students with excellent qualifications who are in the latter stages of writing their dissertations, and our department has had a good record of winning them.

  • And more congratulations to Geology/Astronomy double-major Siobhan Light, who has been selected to receive a NOAA Hollings Scholarship! The Hollings Scholarship Program provides successful undergraduate applicants with awards that include financial academic assistance for two years of full-time study and a 10-week, full-time paid internship at a NOAA facility during the summer. Siobhan is currently a sophomore, and she is also a Banneker-Key recipient. Maya Fields, who is graduating this semester, as an AOSC/Astronomy double major, also received the Hollings previously.

March 2021

  • Congratulations to Sam Crossley for winning a 2021 Career Development Award from the LPI! Sam is a PhD student in Geology where Dr. Jessica Sunshine is his co-advisor. The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) made ten awards this year to graduate students who submitted a first-author abstract to present at the virtual 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). The awards are based on a review of the abstract and application materials by a panel of planetary scientists and, recognition aside, help cover the recipients' LPSC registration fee.

February 2021

  • The first A'Hearn Lecturer will be Dr. Alan Stern, noted Pluto explorer as New Horizons PI, among many other accomplishments. Dr. Stern will visit in the Fall, when he will be able to make an actual visit and interact with us. Many thanks to Jessica Sunshine, Gerbs Bauer, Derek Richardson, and Doug Hamilton for serving on the committee to select and invite the Lecturers.
    The A'Hearn Endowed Lectureship was seeded by Dr. Ralph Pass, who earned his Ph.D. in Math at UMD in 1978. His gift honors Mike as one of two faculty who influenced him here. Dr. Pass' gift is for an annual prize lecture on the topic of planetary astronomy; we are starting with a prize colloquium, with a transition to an annual lecture with national reach as the endowment grows. Whatever the venue, an annual lecture is a wonderful way to remind us and the broader community of Mike's influence as a scientist and human being, and we are very grateful to Dr. Pass for his generous gift. We are seeking other contributions, big and small, to reach the full $100,000 target for the endowment.

  • UMD Astronomy was very present in the latest round of SOFIA project awards, with a total of 8 projects selected. UMD PIs are Alberto Bolatto, Sylvain Veilleux, Xander Tielens, Miguel Requena Torres, Maitraiyee Tiwari, Laura Lenkić, and John Carr, using GREAT, HAWC+, EXES. and FIFI-LS. Many of these projects involve grad student or postdoc involvement. In addition, Adjunct Prof. David Neufeld (JHU) won an EXES project. Congratulations to all!

  • Research Corporation for Science Advancement has named 25 outstanding teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics, and astronomy as recipients of its 2021 Cottrell Scholar Awards. One is Dr. Laura Blecha, now physics faculty at the University of Florida, whose proposal was titled "The Making of a Gravitational Wave Source: Probing the Role of Galaxy Assembly in Black Hole Binary and Triple Formation." Laura was an Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow with us as a JSI Fellow from 2012 - 2015. Recipients are chosen through a rigorous peer-review process of applications from top research universities, degree-granting research institutes, and primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States and Canada. Their award proposals incorporate both science education and research. Each award is $100,000.

  • In a Mashable article "Is it aliens? Here's why it's hard to know for sure." Dr. Marc Neveu discusses types of evidence scientists search for when looking for life.

  • Dr. Quanzhi Ye is quoted in the CNET article China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission is arriving at the red planet: What you need to know.

  • In their recent newsletter, Physics featured alum Alan Henry (B.S. '02 Physics; B.S. '02 Astronomy) who went on to become a tech writer. The article Making the Very Difficult to Understand Easy to Understand describes his time at UMD and how he became a writer at Wired and who also worked for PC Magazine, Lifehacker, and even The New York Times.

  • Rebecca Levy has been selected for one of the fewer than 10 NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowships this year. She will take this fellowship to the University of Arizona.
    The research component is titled "A Multiscale View of the Effects of Stellar Feedback in the Local Universe." The projects comprise observational studies of the effects of stellar feedback on the gas in galaxies, spanning from sub-pc scales in the central starburst of NGC253, to kpc scales in star-forming disk galaxies, to the galaxy-scale outflow in M82. This fellowship is unique in that it also has a "Broader Impacts" component, in addition to the research component. For that, she will adapt the Colors of Nature program, which uses STEAM education to develop middle-school students' identities as scientists, to be a weekly after-school program on the Tohono O'odham Nation (on whose land Kitt Peak National Observatory is built). Very impressive all around -- congratulations, Becca!

  • Our recent graduate Pradip Gatkine was selected for a Hubble Fellowship this year. Even better, he can accept it and stay at Caltech, where he also has a prize postdoc. The competition was very stiff: apparently 406 applications for 24 slots. Congratulations Pradip! This is also a good time to congratulate our department members who have earned these Fellowships -- quite a mark of distinction.

  • Many congratulations to Dr. Richard Mushotzky, who has been elected as a 2021 AAS Fellow by the AAS Board of Trustees. Richard was recognized for his leadership in the data analysis, modeling, and theoretical interpretation of x-ray and multi-wavelength imaging, timing, and spectroscopic data on the physics of black hole accretion, the evolution of the elements, and cosmology. Richard joins fellow Fellows Drake and Grace Deming, Peter Teuben, and Gerry Share, who were elected last year as AAS Legacy Fellows. Congratulations again to Richard and all!

January 2021

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