News from the Department (2022)

Department of Astronomy RSS Feed

November 2022

  • Congratulations to our undergraduate student Fred Angelo Garcia, one of the 3 CMNS students to be awarded the Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar for 2022! The program recognizes top graduating seniors at the University of Maryland, and the professors and K-12 teachers who mentored them. It provides a $1,500 scholarship given in the student's K-12 teacher's name to another student from that school district who will attend UMD the next academic year. In this case, Fred named his high-school teacher Yolanda King-Davis (Oxon Hill High School) as his teacher mentor, and Massimo Ricotti as his faculty mentor. Congratulations to Fred, and also Massimo and Yolanda!

  • 2023 calendar coverAlumna Dr. Kelly Fast shares that the 2023 NASA Science Planning Guide (a.k.a. "calendar") that was recently released features a picture/bio of Prof. Mike A'Hearn on the April 2023 page. The 2023 Guide (as well as prior ones) can be downloaded.

  • Derek Richardson appears in this MarylandToday piece about the Gamer Symphony Orchestra -- Derek is the 140-member Orchestra's faculty advisor (he doesn't get to conduct, though). He got involved in this because one of our former grad students (bassoon) needed sponsorship to join, and the rest is history. The Orchestra holds two concerts per year that feature music from popular video games.

  • Please join us this Thursday for the Dean's Voices of Inclusive Excellence Lecture by former student Alan Henry (B.S. '02, Physics; B.S. '02, Astronomy) titled "Productivity Without Privilege: Job-hacking Rules for the Marginalized." Alan is a Senior Projects Editor at WIRED, and will be discussing his book of the same title. The talk may be of particular interest to those contemplating the job market sometime soon. The Department of Astronomy is a co-sponsor of the event. You are invited to the reception at 3:30 p.m. in the ESJ Sculpture Lounge, followed by the lecture at 4 p.m. in ESJ 0202.

October 2022

  • Our former undergrad Alyssa Mills (2018), has been selected as a John Mather Nobel Scholar for her work on understanding Europa. Alyssa is a PhD student in geosciences at Baylor University, who issued this account.

  • Our Astronomy Assembly on Friday (28 Oct) was great fun! As last year, the costumes ranged from amusing to downright terrifying. The talent show was spectacular, with a demonstration of quantum entanglement clearer than anything the subterranean PSC labs labs can produce, wonderful singing, and soulful violining. The State of the Department talk was, as always, stately. Many of the Questions to the Chair focused on the observatory open house program, especially as it relates to the University's public service and the opportunity for students to engage in public outreach. I heard the message clearly, and will fold it into balancing resources against the priorities and requests from across the Department. To wrap up, as always we celebrated awards, with congratulations and rounds of applause to:
    • Milena Crnogorčević, Andrew Wilson Award!
    • Jordan Ealy, John Wang Award!
    • Serena Cronin and Emma Mirizio, to each the Angerhofer TA Award!
    • Lacey Allee-Press, Undergraduate TA Award!
    Congratulations again!! Also, remember that our departmental awards are open for nominations 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

  • Mark Wolfire along with co-authors, Livia Vallini and Mélanie Chevance have published an Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics chapter on Photodissociation and X-Ray Dominated Regions, ARAA, 2022, Vol 60.

  • Marc Pound and Mark Wolfire had their PDR Toolbox paper accepted to AJ: The PhotoDissociation Region Toolbox: Software and Models for Astrophysical Analysis.

  • Astronomy Professor Sylvain Veilleux served as co-principal investigator of a James Webb Space Telescope project that yielded an exciting new discovery. It was revealed today [20 Oct] that astronomers found a cluster of massive galaxies in the process of forming around an extremely red quasar in the early Universe - 11.5 billion years ago. The full study will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, but a preprint is available online. You can also read the CMNS press release which was adapted from the European Space Agency's announcement. The exciting discovery was also featured in a Maryland Today article.

  • More news of probes buzzing around the Solar System -- the Lucy probe passed very close to the Earth yesterday during its gravity assist boost on its way to explore the Trojan asteroids. It really did -- see the imaging from Nebraska as it went zipping across the sky. The flyby was so close that there was a concern about hitting communications and other satellites (closer to the surface than the ISSS), and the initial plan was modified to increase the distance from the Earth to cut down on atmospheric drag by the big solar panels (going out to Jupiter, not much light...) At 350 km, this is the closest Earth gravity assist since Galileo (the probe, not the man). Thanks to Jessica Sunshine, one of the Lucy co-Is, for sending this in!

  • The first results are in! NASA held a press conference on 10/11/22 to announce that Dimorphos' orbit had changed by 32 minutes, substantially more than the minimum expected for the mission. Another release has great imaging of the collision's aftermath. Congratulations to the DART team and the intrepid little DART itself!

  • IOMN sign with signaturesAstronomy and Geology students showed up in force for the rescheduled International Observe the Moon Night, which took place on Stadium Way in front of PSC last Friday. It drew quite a crowd of passers-by, including siblings and parents visiting for Family Weekend. The Moon even made a brief appearance between the clouds, with the real action was at the tables with NASA handouts, stickers, Moon globes, and mineral samples. Thanks to the organizers in both departments and everyone who participated! Grad student and event organizer Jordan wearing crazy sunglasses and light-up headband antennae and holding an Ask an Astronomer sign
    • Astro Dept: Ben Hord, Emeline Fromont, Giannina Guzman Caloca, Esteban Wright, Erika Hoffman, Emma Mirizio, Amanda Broadmeadow, Jordan Ealy
    • GEODES: Nick Schmerr, Cosmo Varah-Skyes, Jacob Giles, Katie Gansler
    • M-CLASS: Lucas Andrews, Grace Ni, Megan Perry, Sourabh Shubham, Bill McDonough
    Thanks to Nick Schmerr for these and additional pics!

  • Congratulations to Milena Crnogorčević for winning the Andrew S. Wilson Prize for Excellence in Research! The Andrew S. Wilson Prize for Excellence in Research 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 the late Professor Andrew S. Wilson. Milena's research uses data from three different messengers: electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves, and neutrinos to investigate different topics, including dark matter, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), magnetic fields, particle physics, observational and time-domain astronomy, and astrostatistics. As is frequently the case, the choice between applicants was very difficult, and we also recognize the excellent work demonstrated by Ben Hord and Harrison Agrusa, although Harrison was ineligible because he is already Dr. Agrusa!

  • By now everyone knows that DART was a smashing success, a topic that rocketed to the top of news and even comedy shows last week. Local attention hit astronomical levels too, with congratulatory messages to the UMD DART team from President Pines, Vice President for Research Ball, and Dean Varshney. It's also rocked the discussion in every one of the meetings I've had with others in the University administration. And, not least, Maryland Today featured the story with a nice photo of the group who were at APL. Congratulations to everyone involved!
    There are too many mentions of DART to cover them all (a Google search does a great job), but here is a sample that feature quotes and more from Harrison Agrusa in the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American,, and a KTVB story on a local highschooler made good!
    Some of the follow-up has already appeared in this JWST/HST press release about DART observations that features text and animations from UMD alumni Jian-Yang Li (HST PI) and Alyssa Pagan (processing of HST images). Matthew Knight, Ludmilla Kolokolova, and Tony Farnham were all involved in the observations.

September 2022

  • A number of Department members led by David Bennett and Alexander Kutyrev are involved in the PRIME telescope in South Africa. PRIME is a collaboration led by the University of Osaka and the South African Astronomical Observatory, with CRESST and Goddard responsible for the camera. PRIME is a dedicated time-domain machine, imaging large chunks of the Galactic plane. Searching for microlensing events that reveal planets and transients related to gravitational wave signals are high priorities for Department members. A fun video describes the science cases and shows a time-lapse of the telescope's assembly.

  • Sam Gralla from the University of Arizona (formerly an Einstein postdoctoral fellow at UMD) is visiting UMD on the week of Oct 3 -- he will be giving the inaugural Misner Lecture in Gravitational Physics titled "Black Holes: Seeing the Unseeable" on October 4th, 4-5pm. Sam has also kindly agreed to give a set of more technical lectures titled "Minicourse on Black Hole Imaging." The schedule of these talks is:
    • Lecture 1: Monday, October 3, 11 - 12.15; location: PSC 3150
    • Lecture 2: Wednesday, October 5, 10 - 11.15; location: PSC 3150
    • Lecture 3: Friday, October 7, 12 - 1.15; location: PSC 2136

  • Jordan's IOMN flierJordan Ealy is the Department's ringleader in organizing an event, together with Geology's GEODES project and an M-Class Lab, to observe the Moon this Friday (30 Sep; postponed to 7 Oct) from 6-9 pm on McKeldin Mall. International Observe the Moon Night is a day each year that everyone on Earth is invited to observe the Moon, learn about the Moon, and honor the cultural and personal connections we have to the Moon. For the public, it is a day to catch up on what's been happening in lunar science and exploration, celebrate the Moon in our arts and culture, and connect with lunar enthusiasts around the world. For this community, it is a great opportunity to share what is happening in lunar science and exploration - and what a lot there is to share! Last year (2021) over 500,000 people participated from 122 countries and all 7 continents.
    For planets, from the Washington Post: "On Sunday, Jupiter will reach its closest distance to Earth in 59 years at around 367 million miles. On Monday, the gas giant will reach opposition, meaning it will appear opposite the sun to those on Earth. Jupiter will rise in the east while the sun sets in the west. The two events will make Jupiter appear brighter and larger in the sky, with the best views Monday night, according to NASA. However, the planet will appear slightly bigger and brighter for the next few weeks."

  • In more Solar System news, our colleague Nick Schmerr in Geology was a member of the team that published the Nature Geoscience paper "Newly formed craters on Mars located using seismic and acoustic wave data from InSight." They are able to localize, find, and to some extent characterize craters from new impacts on Mars' surface using a seismograph in the NASA InSight lander.

  • As of Sunday (25 Sep), DART was on schedule to meet its doom and deflect an asteroid at 7:14 pm tonight (Mon 26 Sep)! NASA's main broadcast will be from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, with the feed from DART's DRACO camera beginning at 5:00. Links for both of these and more are on the JHU DART website.
    Meanwhile, Derek Richardson packed The Hall CP on Monday for a Science on Tap lecture. Tony Farnham was interviewed by FOX5 DC last week as well, and Jessica Sunshine was interviewed by Science News for a piece that will probably be posted right after impact.

  • Alex Dittman's most recent work on stellar evolution in AGN disks, "The Influence of Disk Composition on the Evolution of Stars in the Disks of Active Galactic Nuclei," has appeared on arXiv. This is a continuation of the work he did during his CCA predoc. Alex and co-authors relaxed some of our previous assumptions and investigated how disk composition influences the evolution of stars embedded in and accreting from these disks.

  • Jialu Li's paper with Xander Tielens and others, "High-resolution M-band Spectroscopy of CO toward the Massive Young Stellar Binary W3 IRS 5" has been published in ApJ. The results cover high spectral resolution (R = 88,100) spectroscopy at 4.7 µm with iSHELL/IRTF of hot molecular gas close to the massive binary protostar W3 IRS 5.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Harrison Agrusa, who defended his PhD thesis titled "On the Dynamics of Binary Asteroids Applied to DART Mission Target (65803) Didymos" on Monday September 12. Harrison will be working with Patrick Michel at the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur as a postdoc; but first, he'll remain to work on DART through the end of the year and perhaps a little longer. Harrison is in the fairly unusual position of making predictions and an analysis framework for an astronomical event that will take place just weeks after his thesis defense -- DART slams into Didymos on 26 Sept. Congratulations Harrison!

  • Save the date! Derek will kick off the Fall 2022 Science on Tap lectures on Tuesday, September 20, 2022, with topic DART--NASA's mission to crash a spacecraft into a 525-foot-wide asteroid on September 26, 2022 (the crash is just a few days later!). Science on Tap sessions will be at The Hall CP, 4656 Hotel Drive, College Park, MD 20742. Doors open at 6 p.m. Talks start at 6:30 p.m.

August 2022

  • A paper with co-authors Derek Richardson and former grad students Ron Balloz and Kevin Walsh -- Yun Zhang's Nature Communications article on the interior structure of Bennu (spoiler alert: it's a very loose rubble pile) -- has been chosen as an Editor Highlight. Not only did this get a feature in today's Maryland Today, but there is additional information in a UMD press release from Aerospace Engineering. Yun continues to be a close collaborator with Astronomy, as is most of the author list.

  • Astronomy Associate Professor Eliza Kempton and Assistant Professor Thaddeus Komacek were part of a research team that today announced an exciting new discovery. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, whose first images were released just last month, has now captured clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside of our solar system.
    This observation of WASP-39 b, a gas giant planet orbiting a sun-like star 700 light-years away, provides important insights into the composition and formation of the planet. It also "shows us that Webb is delivering on its promise of being a transformational facility for astronomical observations," Kempton said. Read the CMNS Release and University Release.

  • A. Surjalal Sharma, a research scientist in astronomy, co-authored a commentary in PNAS Nexus that calls for a more strategic and interdisciplinary approach to pursuing wildfire research and protecting vulnerable communities.
    The study, co-authored by 87 fire experts from a breadth of disciplines, highlights the obstacles for fire science and provides guidance for investing in future research. The commentary is a follow-up to a five-day innovation lab, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which brought together diverse research communities in May 2021 to develop a roadmap for new research directions. Read the CMNS Release.

  • Claire Guépin begins a permanent civil service research position in February 2023 as a "Chargée de recherche CNRS" at LUPM in Montpellier, France. After departing UMD this fall, she will be postdoc in Chicago with a fellowship with the Fermi Institute at UChicago. Please congratulate Claire on her very well-earned new positions!

  • You can see YouTube influencer Cole Miller interviewed about the eBook he wrote with Nicolás Yunes on Gravitational Waves In Physics And Astrophysics to hear not only about the material in the book, but how it was written.

  • Claire Guépin, Kumiko Kotera, and Foteini Oikonomou have a major review titled "High-energy neutrino transients and the future of multi-messenger astronomy" appearing soon in Nature Reviews Physics. In between, it is available on arXiv.

  • group photo of summer GRAD-MAP participants in front of postersWith the end of the summer, our GRAD-MAP summer students wrapped up their projects and presented them on August 6. All five scholars gave excellent oral presentations and posters. By all accounts the summer went great, with much credit and many thanks to the GRAD-MAP co-leads Katya Leidig, Arjun Savel and Amitava Banerjee; faculty advisor Stuart Vogel; every member of our administrative staff, and the faculty and grad students who led the projects. We wish our Summer Scholars all the best as they move into the Fall! More photos from the event.

  • l-r: Drs. Stern, Pass, Sunshine, and Harris with Dr. Pass holding framed picture of asteroid named in his honorDr. Ralph Pass, the founding contributor to the Mike A'Hearn Lectureship endowment, shared a video of asteroid 7732 Ralphpass as it makes its way from the spring sky across the summer sky. Dr. Pass used telescopes at both his Nebula Knoll observatory and the observatory at Middlesex School to obtain both these data and astrometry that matches the asteroid's orbital elements given by the Minor Planets Center (part of NASA's Small Bodies Node, which Gerbs Bauer has ably led as Mike A'Hearn's successor) to a tee. Jessica Sunshine arranged for the asteroid to be named in Dr. Pass' honor to recognize his long-time support of astronomical education, including his generous gift to seed the Lectureship endowment.

  • Mike Koss, one of our former students, is leading the BAT AGN Spectroscopic Survey (BASS) collaboration, which has a special issue of the ApJ. This release provides a highly complete set of key measurements for the brightest 858 ultrahard X-ray (14-195 keV) selected AGN across the entire sky from Swift BAT. The release includes emission-line measurements and central velocity dispersions, with 99.9% of AGN with redshift measurements and 98% with black hole mass estimates (among non-beamed AGN outside the Galactic plane) and including 1449 optical and 233 near-IR spectra with the majority released for the first time. Richard Mushotzky is on several of the papers. Former student Krista Smith and current Prof. Sylvain Veilleux are on at least one of the 9 papers in the issue.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Tomas Ahumada, who defended his PhD thesis titled "A portrait of the binary compact merger as a young: Short GRB, Gravitational Wave, Afterglow and Kilonova" on Thursday July 28. Congratulations Tomas!

July 2022

  • An international team of astronomers, including several UMD scientists, uncovered the origins of "castaway" short gamma-ray bursts that previously seemed to have no galactic home. Their paper, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, traced these enigmatic bursts of energy back to previously undiscovered galaxies in the early Universe.
    The research team includes UMD Astronomy Faculty Assistant Brendan O'Connor, physics Ph.D. candidate Joseph Durbak, Astronomy Associate Research Scientist Alexander Kutyrev, Astronomy Professor Sylvain Veilleux, Astronomy Adjunct Associate Professor S. Bradley Cenko, former Astronomy Associate Research Scientist Eleonora Troja, former Astronomy Postdoctoral Associate Simone Dichiara and Pradip Gatkine (M.S. '16, Ph.D. '20, astronomy). Read the CMNS Release.

  • In addition to 20 papers in various focus issues, we had
    • There were a bunch of JWST release activities, especially for Eliza Kempton (front page of the Baltimore Sun and (NBC Washington (TV)) and Sylvain Vielleux (FOX5DC (TV), and official VIP at the STScI event). The University also did a really nice job of listing UMD people who have been closely involved with recent work on getting JWST to fly and with the image releases -- lots of familiar names there even as they missed some of the ones who contributed a while ago and moved on to other things. I'm doubtless missing more names and details, please let me know.

    • Carrie Holt and Mike Kelley have a paper in press with ApJ Letters, "A LOOK at Outbursts of Comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) Near 20 au." They observed this giant comet, discovered last year, to assemble an 8-month long light curve showing it to have three outbursts during this time. These outbursts are in spite of it being so far from the Sun where temperatures are quite cold (T~60 K), and likely create large (tens of meters across) surface features on the nucleus.

    • A Caltech press release covers the publication of a set of seven papers in an ApJ Focus Issue describing the COMAP experiment; Andy Harris built parts of the experiment with former undergrad Ravi and continues to be involved (which is why I'm reporting from Pasadena this summer). COMAP is an integrated intensity mapping instrument on one of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory 10.4 meter telescopes, with a target of measuring the integrated carbon monoxide emission from clusters of galaxies at redshifts near the peak of the era of mass assembly (z ~ 2 to 3). Results so far set interesting limits, and the experiment just received NSF funding to continue the pilot surveys.

    • The Planetary Science Journal has a special focus section on "The DART and Hera Missions and the Didymos System, Pre-arrival," with 13 papers that include many names familiar to the UMD community including one led by Derek Richardson, one by Harrison Agrusa, and one by Patrick Michel, a long-time collaborator and our counterpart for the Nice-UMD agreement.

    • Former UMD astro grads Kevin Walsh and Ron Ballouz led a paper in Science Advances titled "Near-zero cohesion and loose packing of Bennu's near subsurface revealed by spacecraft contact" (Joe DeMartini and Derek Richardson are also on the author list, along with another former UMD astro grad, Steve Schwartz, and our previous visiting student, Yun Zhang). This NASA press release includes a YouTube video featuring Ron's animation of a sampling event in zero cohesion that he presented during his thesis defense. This is for the OSIRIS-REx sample-return mission. The basic idea is that the sampler penetrated far deeper than anticipated, although in a manner consistent with Ron's simulations from years ago, suggesting there is little cohesion at the surface layer on Bennu (interesting because we know of some asteroids, such as Didymos, which may need cohesion to maintain their high spin).

    • Finally, here's a publication that is a collaboration with Physics. This Phys Rev paper details a fundamental granular dynamics experiment performed in 3D for the first time (always tricky when studying real materials!) and compared against Derek Richardson and collaborators' numerical code (pkdgrav, for which 3D measurements are trivial!). The lead author, Zack Benson, got his PhD late last year, with Derek as a committee member.

  • Arjun Savel has been selected as a participant in the Flatiron Institute Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) Pre-doctoral Program for the fall semester. This program allows graduate student researchers from around the world to collaborate with CCA scientists for 5 months on site in New York City. Arjun will primarily work with Dr. Megan Bedell on high resolution spectroscopy techniques for observing exoplanet atmospheres. Congratulations, Arjun!

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Weizhe Liu, who defended his PhD thesis titled "Active Galactic Nucleus Feedback in Giants and Dwarfs" on Thursday July 14. He will be a JASPER postdoctoral fellow at U of Arizona working on JWST data - right up his alley! Congratulations Weizhe!

  • Congratulations to the University of Maryland on being named one of 18 host institutions for the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship program. This prestigious fellowship, funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation, gives postdoctoral fellows the chance to pursue cutting-edge research in planetary science at a university aligned with their goals and interests.

    Fellows placed at UMD will have access to a network of faculty in the Astronomy, Geology, and Atmospheric and Oceanic Science departments. Read the CMNS Release.

  • Congratulations to the many ScienceTerps, alums and faculty, whose work on the James Webb Space Telescope culminated in the first media release images earlier this week. MarylandToday featured a nice summary article "Terps' Work Helped Create First Images From Webb Space Telescope."
    From Astronomy, alumna Alyssa Pagan, '16 has been quoted in And professors interviewed

  • Jialu Li's paper with Xander Tielens and others, "High-Resolution M-band Spectroscopy of CO towards the Massive Young Stellar Binary W3 IRS5" has been accepted and is on arXiv.

  • Congratulations to Carrie Holt for winning a FINESST award to support her project "Discriminating the dynamical history of long-period comets using brightness behavior." This will support her while she completes her thesis work with Adjunct Prof Matthew Knight (USNA) and Derek Richardson.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Charlotte Ward, who defended her PhD thesis titled "Tracing the Formation and Merger-Driven Growth of Massive Black Holes with the Zwicky Transient Facility" on Friday July 8. She is going to a postdoc at Princeton in Prof. Melchior's research group, which specializes in statistical methods for large surveys. Congratulations Charlotte!

June 2022

  • CMNS Dean Amitabh Varshney announces the appointment of Dr. Andrew Harris to a second term as department chair. Congratulations Andy! Read the CMNS Release.

  • Harrison Agrusa and Quanzhi Ye talk about binary asteroids in this Wired article.

  • Congratulations to Jessica Sunshine and Sarah Valencia of Astronomy for being on the team selected by NASA for a moon exploration mission!
    In 2026, astronomers will collect real-time data from the lunar surface when NASA launches a new suite of research instruments called Lunar-VISE (Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer). Jessica will serve as instrument scientist for the multispectral camera in the Lunar-VISE suite and Sarah will serve as co-investigator on this mission. Read the CMNS release.

  • NASA Goddard Association of Postdoctoral Scholars recently profiled grad student Milena Crnogorčević as an early-career scientist. Congratulations Milena!

  • Massimo Ricotti, along with his former student Emil Polisensky and others, led a recent paper on astro-ph: Ghostly Stellar Haloes and their Relationship to Ultra-faint Dwarfs. They use cosmological simulations to create an empirical model of stellar halos around dwarf galaxies, then fit this model to observed stellar halos found in 6 nearby isolated dwarf galaxies to constrain the star formation efficiency of galaxies at the epoch of reionization.

  • Congratulations to JSI Gehrels Fellow Shmuel Bialy, who was recently offered (and accepted) a position as Assistant Professor at the Technion, one of the top schools in Israel! He starts there March 1, 2023, so there is time to congratulate him in person. Although we're sad to lose him, it's great news for Shmuel and his family. Congratulations!

  • Welcome to the 2022 GRAD-MAP Summer Scholars! Many thanks to Arjun Savel, Katya Leidig, Stuart Vogel, and the Department Staff for getting everything organized. This year's scholars are:
    • Autumn Jackson Bartholomew, working with Landry Horimbe in Physics;
    • Desmond Celestin, working with Vicente Villanueva Llanos, Alberto Bolatto, and Stuart Vogel;
    • Elaine Nieves Goodman, working with Jordan Goodman in Physics;
    • Jaid Moore, working with Israel Martinez in CRESST II;
    • Othello Dony Gomes, working with Thaddeus Komacek.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Guangwei Fu, who defended his PhD thesis titled "A Study of Diverse Hot Jupiter Atmospheres" on Thursday June 2. Guangwei will soon be the Exoplanet Science Fellow at STScI. Congratulations Guangwei!

May 2022

  • Departmental Prizes were announced at our end of year celebration last week, and I include some abstracted nomination text below. Congratulations and thanks to Shmuel Bialy, Mike Kelley, Adeline Gicquel-Brodtke, Chris Hunt, Eliza Kempton, Erica Harrison, Cole Miller, and Milena Crnogorčević! Thanks also to the substantial number of others who were nominated, and their nominators -- the committee had a tough time selecting all the prizes.
    • Postdoctoral Scientist Prize for Excellence -- Shmuel Bialy
      Shmuel is a highly engaged member of our departmental community. He organizes the CTC lunch talks, and he has brought in an excellent stream of high-quality speakers this year who have really re-enlivened the CTC group and the seminar series as a whole. His research appears to be important and impactful, although I should let [others more expert weigh in on this.]

    • Distinguished Research Scientist Prize -- Mike Kelley
      Associate Research Scientist Mike Kelley is quiet and unassuming, so it's easy for people who don't work closely with him to not realize what a fantastic scientist he is. His publication record speaks to his productivity: ... However, his more important contributions are harder to see: he has developed and made publicly available a variety of code that has been critical to many of the publications he is a co-author on, even when he's not the lead; he is generous with his time in mentoring younger scientists ... and he is a selfless contributor to the planetary science community such as through creating and editing the monthly Cometary Science Newsletter, taking various leadership roles in LSST planning and development, and contributing to and advocating for Astropy and other open-source initiatives. In summary, Mike is the sort of scientist who everyone wants on their team.

    • Technical Professional Staff Prize for Excellence -- Adeline Gicquel-Brodtke
      I nominate Adeline Gicquel for the Technical Professional Staff Prize for Excellence. Dr. Gicquel has worked tirelessly since her hiring, fulfilling several PDS tasks that required a full-time dedicated effort of a comprehensively developed scientist. She immediately began work to complete the Rosetta mission data dictionaries within the 2020 deadline. This was an enormous push, requiring the ability to interact and obtain critical information to populate the dictionaries from both the ESA and NASA instrument contributors for over 26 separate instruments which she completed well before the deadline and she has since begun the migration of the data to the PDS4 standards. She is now applying her expertise also to the New Horizons dataset migration, a similarly daunting task with a critical set of deadlines that she has helped place the SBN in likelihood of meeting. Adeline has become a critical and valuable member of the SBN, and I happily nominate her for this Prize.

    • Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize -- Chris Hunt
      Chris isn't well known to many in the Department but he has been an essential member of our teaching faculty for years now. He teaches the Freshmen Connection ASTR100/101 course in the fall semesters and a summer version of ASTR100/101 as well, receiving excellent feedback from students. These are important courses for the department to regularly offer to reach the needs of many different students and Chris has taught these courses with great enthusiasm and commitment. During the pandemic, Chris continued his teaching commitment and transitioned to teaching online on top of his regular teaching duties at PGCC. His transition of the summer 100/101 offering to online went so well and was so popular that we are offering the course online again this summer making it more accessible to a broader population of students. Chris' dedication and commitment to the department deserves to be recognized.

    • Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize -- Eliza Kempton
      Eliza has been an amazing instructor in our exoplanets course. She is extremely organized and engaging as a lecturer. Her teaching style is very conducive to how I learn - a good mixture of visual and mathematical explanations and always making sure that we are taking away key ideas. ... I went into the class knowing nothing about exoplanets, and I'm coming out of it with a newfound appreciation and excitement for the field.

    • Administrative Professional Staff Prize for Excellence -- Erica Harrison
      Erica is the Finance Manager for the CRESST II cooperative agreement. Erica's knowledge, experience and expertise to train and assist the employees within the CRESST II partner institutions on how to prepare their institutional quarterly reports, answer inquiries, and prepare the yearly budgets has been instrumental to ensure there are no delays in the CRESST II consolidated financial reports she prepares for NASA. Erica is caring, cheerful and always willing to take time to help, answer questions and problem solve. Her dedication to excellence, her work ethic, and her ability to lead the team of business managers from the five partner institutions contributes to the success of the cooperative agreement. Erica is most deserving of this award, and I thank you for your time and consideration of this nomination.

    • Prize for Excellence in Mentoring -- M. Coleman Miller
      Cole has demonstrated to be exceptionally mindful and aware of many aspects of academic life when giving advice. He has made himself available to mentor people who are not formally under his responsibility, which shows generosity and interest for the department wellness and success.

    • Departmental Service Award -- Milena Crnogorčević
      I can think of no one more deserving of the inaugural department service award than Milena. Since she arrived at Maryland, she has selflessly been a powerhouse for department service. More than any other graduate student in my 30 years at Maryland, Milena has worked to improve the culture in the department and in astronomy...
      Through her time in grad school, she has poured effort into running and improving GRAD-MAP, BANG, and the EDI Committee. She has put countless hours into making our department, as well as the astronomy community as a whole, more inclusive and diverse. ... Whenever Milena dedicates her time to a department organization, she provides an unparalleled expertise and focus on excellence. She also helps the people in the department on an individual level by simply being a kind and pleasant person to be around. Throughout the pandemic, Milena decided to wish each graduate student a happy birthday in our group slack workspace. This was not a grad job (although it is now!); Milena simply thought it would be a nice thing to do that would build community. ... At the same time, she has also performed exemplary PhD research, showing how she is truly a model, well-rounded graduate student. I show my appreciation for all the service she has done for the department by nominating her for the service award.

  • A recent NY Times analysis concludes (among other things), "The occupation in Maryland with the highest location quotient is astronomer. That means astronomers are disproportionately common in Maryland's work force, more so than any other occupation." So congratulations or something.

  • Becca Levy won the 2022 IAU thesis honorable mention for division H. Each Division awards one Prize and one Honorable Mention, so this is a big deal. The IAU PhD Prize recognizes the outstanding scientific achievements of astronomy PhD students around the world. Each of the IAU's nine divisions awards a prize to the candidate it feels has carried out the most remarkable work in the previous year; this year 120 theses were submitted. Congratulations Becca!

  • Congratulations to Milena Crnogorčević, the PI on a proposal selected in Fermi GI Cycle 15 for Phase 2 (budget stage)! This was one of 34 new programs selected out of 80 proposals submitted. Massimo Ricotti is also a Co-I on the project.

  • group of astronomy studentsWe had a great graduation celebration in the PSC lobby on Thursday to celebrate the graduating seniors and recent PhDs from this year and last. Thanks to all who came, students, family, and faculty alike, and we missed those who couldn't make it. As you can tell from the photo, there was a definite air of celebration. I had a number of comments from parents and students about how much they appreciated their interactions in the Department, Melissa's superb and careful advising, and the brief speeches for each student. Thanks too to Barbara and Lauren for arranging everything and reminding me to tell everyone to have some cake!

  • Some of you may remember the discovery of sound (density) waves in the Perseus galaxy cluster some years ago. Extremely low frequency, of course, but now "sonified" by shifting them up in frequency so you can hear the -- sped up so things that took tens of millions of years are now a clip of seconds in the audible range. There is a NY Times story that points to a NASA video on YouTube for the Perseus cluster. The second half of the article centers on our former JSI Fellow Erin Kara, now a professor at MIT, and the work she does on sonifying her observations of Black Holes.

  • Benedikt Diemer has a new paper out with a functional form describing the density profile of dark halos. Based on his dynamical modeling, this form does a superior job of fitting the transition region where the halo is accreting matter.

  • Our former student Mike McDonald has just received tenure at MIT. Then former faculty members Eve Ostriker and Jim Stone (Princeton and Institute for Advanced Study) were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, recognition that they are among the most influential scientists in the country. Geology's Rich Walker was also elected to the NAS, compounding his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences noted last week. Nick Scoville (Caltech emeritus) was also elected to the NAS.
    Three investigation teams were selected to join the Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC) mission. One, the Comprehensive Auroral Precipitation Experiment (CAPE) team, is led by Dr. Daniel Gershman, who works in the Goddard Heliophysics Science Division. CAPE will measure high-energy charged particles entering the upper atmosphere from Earth's space environment. These particles deposit energy into the upper atmosphere, powering processes that cause large-scale redistributions of mass and energy. CAPE uses electrostatic analyzers, which can precisely measure these charged particles.
    Another of our former research scientists was awarded tenure recently: Dennis Bodewits is now Associate Prof. Bodewits at Auburn University.

  • Maryland Day was a great success -- perfect weather, and large crowds around the Astronomy tables and solar telescopes. The solar telescopes and spectral demonstrations seemed to be the biggest hits, but there was lots of action everywhere. Many thanks to Elizabeth Warner for organizing our part of the event, and to all the volunteers -- undergrads, grad students, faculty, and staff -- who made it such a success!

April 2022

  • Congratulations to Isiah Holt (Astronomy Ph.D. student advised by Cole Miller), who was selected for a NASA Pathways Internship! NASA strategically hires Pathways Interns based on long-term potential and alignment with NASA's future workforce needs.
    In Isiah's research with NASA Goddard's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission, he identifies systematic errors and determines whether the researchers' models can get a statistically good fit to the data, even in cases of bias. He'll now be continuing this research as a Pathways intern. Read the CMNS feature.

  • 4 people with one holding framed asteroid citationLast week's (Apr 20) inaugural A'Hearn Lecture was a great success. Alan Stern gave a fantastic talk about the puzzles uncovered with the surprisingly active dwarf planet Pluto as well as a very nice tribute to Mike A'Hearn. Thanks to Lauren Miles, John Cullinan, Barbara Hansborough, Cheri Meadows, Jessica Sunshine, Gerbs Bauer, Tilden Barnes, Elizabeth Warner, Derek Richardson, Doug Hamilton, the entire Small Bodies Group, and all who attended for making it a fitting and memorable event.
    Photo: (L-R) Drs. Alan Stern (speaker), Ralph Pass (alum and donor), Jessica Sunshine, and Andrew Harris (Department chair). As a thank you to Dr Pass for funding the lecture, Dr Sunshine presented him with asteroid 7732, now known as (7732) Ralphpass.

  • Igor Andrioni's paper about ToO (target of opportunity) observations of gravitational waves with Vera Rubin Observatory has now been accepted for publication in ApJS. Congratulations to Igor and his coauthors including Brad Cenko!

  • Alan Stern, "In Honor of Professor Mike A'Hearn: The Exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt" is the Inaugural A'Hearn Lecture presenter. Alan Stern is the Principal Investigator of the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

  • Grad student Guangwei Fu led a paper in ApJ (Letters) titled "Strong H2O and CO Emission Features in the Spectrum of KELT-20b Driven by Stellar UV Irradiation," along with Drake Deming, Jegug Ih, Eliza Kempton, Matej Malik, and Tad Komacek. The paper is featured in an STScI press release about Hot Jupiters.

  • Congratulations too to Antoine Washington, who won a Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship award. This will help support Antoine's work with Prof. Jessica Sunshine this summer. Way to go Antoine!

  • Congratulations to grad student Katya Leidig. Fourteen current students and recent alumni of the University of Maryland's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, which recognize outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Katya was one of six current graduate students in CMNS to earn this award. Read the CMNS release.

  • Congratulations to new Dr. Robyn Smith! Robyn successfully defended her PhD Thesis titled "Case Studies in AGN Feedback" on Friday April 1. She's considering a number of options for her next step. Congratulations again, Robyn!

March 2022

  • Prof. Cole Miller and grad student Alexander Dittmann received the Rossi prize as members of the NICER team. This prize is awarded by the High Energy Division of the American Astronomical Society. NICER is an experiment on the International Space Station.
    Then, at the HEAD meeting, Milena Crnogorčević received the award for the best student poster! The poster presented her work on "Searching for axion-like particles from core-collapse supernovae with Fermi LAT's low-energy technique". The poster is up in front of her office, please take a look!
    And our undergrad Israel Biniam was accepted into the Simons-NSBP Scholars Program for this summer (NSBP is the National Society of Black Physicists). The Flatiron Institute runs the program to provide undergraduate NSBP members with summer research opportunities to give its Scholars a holistic experience and provide invaluable training for becoming a professional physicist.
    Congratulations to all!

  • Papers are one thing, and most definitely a good thing, but Cole Miller has published a book! The book is "Gravitational Waves in Physics and Astrophysics: An Artisan's Guide", with co-author Nicolás Yunes (Physics professor at the University of Illinois). The main publication is electronic, but we may see a hardcopy version or two around the department sometime soon. Way to go, Cole!

  • Elizabeth Warmer and Peter Teuben came up with a project for the annual iSchool Info Challenge hackathon -- of the 56 student teams competing in the week-long challenge with 11 projects available, the one team that tackled their project won the Grand Prize! The dataset was a few nights of FITS files from the all-sky camera at the observatory. As usual, some frames show shadows from the bugs that crawl up to or land on the top of the camera. Annoying for sky monitoring, but great for computer scientists who see it as a bug that's a feature (or something). The team used the OpenCV library and wrote a python package around it to detect bugs. All in github, of course.. Even more impressive, the winning team was a group of 3 senior high school kids from Wheaton HS. Congratulations to the students, Elizabeth, and Peter!

February 2022

  • Congratulations to Keith Arnaud and Brad Cenko for their awards from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the AAS. Keith received the HEAD Innovation Prize "for developing and maintaining XSPEC, the X-ray spectral fitting package, which has become world standard for analysis of spectra from X-ray and Gamma-ray missions." Brad wins the HEAD Mid-career Prize "for outstanding leadership, discovery, and characterization of high-energy transient phenomena." Send your congratulations to Keith and Brad! Read the CMNS release.

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Ed Shaya and Alan Peel who have a paper coming out in The Astrophysical Journal. In this study, they traced the movement of 10,000 galaxies and clusters of galaxies over 11.5 billion years-from the galaxies' origins (when the universe was 1.5 billion years old) until today (over 13 billion years old). They also projected future galaxy movements, predicting galaxy expansions and mergers 10 billion years into the future. Read the CMNS release.

January 2022

  • Many congratulations to Richard Mushotzky on being named as the 2022 Henry Norris Russell Lecturer by the American Astronomical Society! The Russell Lecturer is normally chosen annually on the basis of a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research, and that certainly matches Richard's career path. The Russell Lectureship Committee selected him as this year's winner "For a lifetime of innovative X-ray and multiwavelength research, including foundational studies of the properties of active galactic nuclei and the composition and structures of hot gas in clusters of galaxies, as well as the co-invention of the X-ray calorimeter. Read the CMNS release."

  • Congratulations to Isiah Holt, whose NASA Pathways Fellowship is now official. This is a highly competitive fellowship intended to bring promising people into NASA civil servant positions. I think it generally goes to engineering students, and Isiah is the first UMD Astronomy student to win one. Congratulations again!

  • Alex Dittmann recently submitted a paper on circumbinary disks with Geoff Ryan. Much of this material was featured in the CTC seminar he gave last semester. On top of that, another of his submitted papers, this time on TDEs, is also posted.

  • Andrew Harris one of 55 co-authors on Sheona Urquhart's paper from the BEARS collaboration titled "The Bright Extragalactic ALMA Redshift Survey (BEARS) I: redshifts of bright gravitationally-lensed galaxies from the Herschel ATLAS," MNRAS in press. Our former Jansky Fellow Andrew Baker is also on the paper.

  • GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop a great success! Despite having to switch to an online workshop on a very short notice, the Workshop still fulfilled (and exceeded) students' expectations and was a huge success this year! We had ten outstanding and dedicated students (Autumn Bartholomew, Gemechis Edosa, Daniel Gallego, Othello Gomes, Edda Hobuss, Ilham Kabir, Noah Nickens, Paulson Obiniyi Jr., Angel Rodriguez, and Layla Xholi)---from near and far---worked hard on a number of activities including Python bootcamp, writing and presentation workshops, talking about career options and graduate school, various panels, research projects, culminating in outstanding research presentations on Sunday, Jan 9.
    A special thank you to all the GRAD-MAP volunteers who made it possible, too numerous to list, but certainly including GRAD-MAP research mentors Amitava Banerjee, Jake Bringewatt, Rob Dalka, Joe DeMartini, Alex Dittmann, Erica Hammerstein, Tad Komacek, and Elizabeth Warner! A big shout-out to Joe and Alex for also leading the Python bootcamp, and a super shout-out to Charlotte, Andrew, and Milena for running their last (!) Winter Workshop. We are Katya Leidig and Amitava now taking over as GRAD-MAP co-leads.

  • CTC Fellow Shmuel Bialy report a number of papers that have recently appeared or have been accepted:

  • Last week's announcement brought another winner to light: Congratulations to Milena Crnogorčević for receiving one of the Graduate School's Outstanding Research Assistant Award for AY 2021-22! The Graduate School established this award to recognize and honor the outstanding contributions Graduate Assistants provide to students, faculty, departments, and the University as a whole. The award conveys the honor of being recognized as among the top 2% of campus Graduate Assistants in a given year. More concretely, Milena will receive a credit for mandatory fees for Spring 2022. Congratulations Milena and Alex -- this makes two awards for two nominations.

  • Congratulations to Alex Dittmann for receiving one of the Graduate School's Outstanding Research Assistant Award for AY 2021-22! The Graduate School established this award to recognize and honor the outstanding contributions Graduate Assistants provide to students, faculty, departments, and the University as a whole. The award conveys the honor of being recognized as among the top 2% of campus Graduate Assistants in a given year. More concretely, Alex will receive a credit for mandatory fees for Spring 2022. Way to go Alex!

  • Gehrels Fellow Igor Andreoni led a paper titled "Optimizing Cadences with Realistic Light-curve Filtering for Serendipitous Kilonova Discovery with Vera Rubin Observatory" is in the ApJS special issue on Rubin Observatory. Adjunct Assistant Professor Leo Singer is a coauthor on this paper. A second paper that he prepared for this special issue, "Target of Opportunity Observations of Gravitational Wave Events with Vera C. Rubin Observatory" is currently under peer review (this one written entirely after his move to UMD), here with coauthor Shreya Anand, one of our former undergrads, now a Caltech grad student.

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