News from the Department (2023)

Department of Astronomy RSS Feed

December 2023

  • Dr. Karen Meech (University of Hawaii) will deliver the A'Hearn Lecture, speaking on "Small Bodies: Primitive Witnesses to the Birth of a Habitable Solar System."

  • Congratulations to Jialu Li, whose paper about the galaxy IC342 observed with the Argus focal plane array on the Green Bank Telescope has been accepted for publication in ApJ, now available on arXiv. The results include Argus' first images of an external galaxy, and a deep dive into the radiative transfer consistent with a nearly constant HCN/HCO+ intensity ratio along IC342's nuclear bar. Other members of the team include Alberto Bolatto and Andy Harris.

November 2023

  • NASA's Lucy team-which includes Professor of Astronomy and Geology Jessica Sunshine-is looking to transform our understanding of planetary formation and evolution in the same way that the discovery of the 1974 Lucy fossil transformed how we view human evolution today. Over the next 12 years, the Lucy team plans to study the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, a never-before-explored group of small bodies consisting of materials left over from the formation of the solar system's biggest planets.
    The team recently completed the Lucy spacecraft's first test run, flying past a tiny asteroid called Dinkinesh ("Dinky" for short). Despite its diminutive size, Dinky was full of big surprises.
    "Dinkinesh is less than a mile wide, but there is a lot to learn from such a small asteroid. It's a piece of a much bigger history," Jessica said. "We can use our observations to draw connections between main belt asteroids like Dinkinesh and near-Earth objects. Studying it gives us insight into where Earth came from and how the planet came to be."
    Read the CMNS release.

  • Congratulations to Tad Komacek and collaborators for winning a NASA grant titled "Characterizing the gamut of habitable zone rocky exoplanets around M-dwarfs with next-generation observatories."

  • Congratulations to Derek Richardson for completing the Lumen Circles: Teaching with OER & OER-enabled Pedagogy Fellowship. He now has (yet another) well-deserved certificate of effective teaching.

  • Congratulations to Jegug Ih for his recent ApJ paper "Constraining the Thickness of TRAPPIST-1 b's Atmosphere from Its JWST Secondary Eclipse Observation at 15 µm" with Eliza Kempton and Madeline Lessard about recent atmospheric studies of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, which was featured in an AAS Nova highlight.

  • Gleaming Jupiter is easy to pick out in the early evening, but for those who aren't sure which brightish dot is Saturn, the Moon is just 5 degrees from Saturn this evening (20 Nov). Saturn will be a little above and to the right of the Moon. Saturn transits just after 6 pm these evenings, so look high (its dec is N13; our latitude is 39N; all those who have taken an observational astronomy class can work out its altitude at transit) and to the south. And while you are out in the cool clear Fall air to pick out and appreciate Saturn, you can see the Summer Triangle fading in the west as Orion rises in the east. A transition season, even as we have entered solar winter and are careening toward the winter solstice.

  • We welcome Dr. Christine Hartzell to our department as an Affiliate Associate Professor. Christine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, and is a granular dynamics expert with a particular focus on tribocharging (generation of electric charge on grains due to mechanical interactions). She is involved in lab experiments (both terrestrial and space-borne) and numerical simulations. Applications include understanding the dust environments on small solar system body surfaces, the unexpected ejection of grains from Bennu observed by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, and coagulation of grains in zero gravity. In addition to OSIRIS-REx, Prof. Hartzell is involved in the joint JAXA/NASA MMX sample-return mission to Phobos and the Janus SIMPLEx mission concept led by Dan Scheeres (U Colorado and Christine's PhD advisor). She also was recently awarded a major grant for developing dust-mitigation techniques on the Moon for surface operations. Already a familiar face from thesis defense committees, Christine has plenty of overlapping interests with our department. We hope this appointment will increase our already frequent interactions, especially with students and postdocs.

  • THE DART Mission continued to deliver some surprises as detailed in a follow-up release from NASA.

  • Congratulations to Igor Andreoni, winner of the Italian Cultural Society of Washington DC's Young Scientist Award! This distinction goes to recipients who are Italian researchers in the DMV area, in any field, and be younger than 36 years old. The award came with a nice certificate and a respectable amount of money. The award ceremony took place during the annual Gala at the Italian Embassy in Washington DC, and it would have been great fun for Igor had visa problems not of his doing prevented him from attending. They did, however, show a thank-you video that he sent in his stead. Igor returns this week, so you can congratulate him in person!

  • green auroral arcsFor this week, we have 'Recently Appeared in the Sky!' Grad Emma Mirizio is back from a successful sounding rocket launch in Fairbanks, Alaska, to study the conditions in aurorae. A prerequisite for the launch is to have auroral activity, and fortunately there was plenty during the time Emma was there. Emma shares the photo (left) from a few nights before their launch, but conditions were still favorable for theirs. Emma sent along a brief but spectacular movie, too.

  • Congratulations to Marc Pound and Mark Wolfire, whose ADAP proposal "Scientific Enhancements to the PhotoDissociation Region Toolbox" was selected for full funding. The PDR Toolbox is a standard resource for many people, and now it will be even better!

  • The Lucy mission to explore the Trojan asteroids is zipping past a few other asteroids on its way out to Jupiter's orbit. Last Wednesday, it zoomed past the smallest main-belt asteroid ever visited, Dinkinesh. The autonomous tracking worked extremely well, if not perfectly, returning surprising images of a little moon orbiting the asteroid, and retiring risk for later encounters. Science team member Jessica Sunshine sends links to the NASA press release and a slightly earlier Scientific American article that describes the mission and quotes her. And more surprises are coming. Congratulations, and keep going, Lucy!

  • Tim Livengood appears in this NASA account of activities during October's annular eclipse -- he was participating in programs at Mesa Verde, very cool!

  • Ramsey Karim's thesis paper on SOFIA [CII] and mm-wave single dish and interferometric observations of the Pillars of Creation was accepted by AJ, and is up on arXiv.

October 2023

  • One highlight of the Assembly is always the departmental student awards, and this year was no exception. Also, as no exception, the choices for the awards are difficult, as we have plenty of strong candidates. Please congratulate our award winners: And while you congratulate them, congratulations to all who were in the running for these awards.

  • A little, but not much, closer to home, Geology's Vedran Lekic was part of a team that found a liquid silicate layer around Mars' core. The CMNS press release has a nice summary and link to the paper.

  • Jessica Sunshine has done a number of interviews about the NASA Lucy mission encounter with the main belt asteroid Dinkinesh. This will be a quick flyby this Wednesday Nov. 1, quite a test of the imaging acquisition and tracking systems. This will be the smallest main belt asteroid, ~750 m diameter, to be observed up close so far. NASA has made a cute cartoon covering the encounter and its significance. If all goes well, this will be the seventh time Jessica has been part of the science team watching as humanity sees a new world up close!

  • Ben Sharkey was interviewed for a documentary during the summer. The documentary (trailer) Search For Earth's Lost Moon was released by subscription service Curiosity Stream. The topic is his research on a unique near-Earth asteroid that may have originated from a lunar impact.

  • Alex Dittman posted two papers to arxiv last week. The first is the product of his summer visits to Los Alamos, on the orbital evolution of binary black holes embedded within AGN disks (a topic which we heard about during a colloquium not too long ago): The Evolution of Inclined Binary Black Holes in the Disks of Active Galactic Nuclei. The second, with former postdoc Geoff Ryan, was a general survey of circumbinary disks across a wide range of mass ratios, down to the point of being relevant to some brown dwarfs and very massive exoplanets: The Evolution of Accreting Binaries: from Brown Dwarfs to Supermassive Black Holes.

  • Recent postdoc Juan Rizos and Prof. Jessica Sunshine appear in a Geological Society of America press release Hypervelocity Impact Experiments Probe the Origin of Organics on the Dwarf Planet Ceres as part of the annual meeting on organics on Ceres. The punch line is that organics formed by reactions within Ceres itself. The team is headed by Terek Daly at APL.

  • Physics/Astronomy double-major Austin Humphreys is first author on a AAS Research Note published in August Spectroscopic Confirmation of the Nearby, Wide-separation L Dwarf Pair CWISE J061741.79+194512.8AB. The Note presents spectroscopic confirmation using Keck/NIRES of a nearby L-dwarf pair.

  • Congratulations again to Quanzhi Ye, who received the Urey Prize from the Division for Planetary Scientists of the AAS at its recent meeting. The fun photo (right) shows Quanzhi and the 1999 winner, our Prof. Douglas Hamilton. The Harold C. Urey Prize ("Urey Prize"), recognizes and encourages outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist. Criteria for consideration and selection include but are not limited to the innovative and creative nature of the candidate's work, leadership in the field, and ethics. More information is in the CMNS-tweaked version of the AAS press release. Congratulations Quanzhi!!

  • Jessica Sunshine was interviewed by Science News about the OSIRIS-REx sample return.

September 2023

  • Tad Komacek's picture (identified as "another astronomy-loving friend") was in a WTOP news story about an astronomy gathering for high-schoolers on Sat 23 Sept that Tad has helped organize. The event's website is The basic program is to have keynote presentations by astronomers Hakeem Oluseyi and Rachel Osten, student poster presentations, intro to stargazing, and a panel discussion. It will be held in the Antonov Auditorium in Iribe. The event is open to anyone at UMD or in the area who has registered online in advance.

  • Quanzhi Ye was quoted extensively in a recent Washington Post article about a comet that was discovered in early August and whipped around the Sun yesterday. Will anything be left? Who knows! "A comet moving by the sun is like 'throwing an ice cream into a campfire,' Ye said: the smaller the scoop, the faster it will melt."

  • Congratulations to Marta Sewilo, who led publication of an ALMA study istitled "The Detection of Higher-Order Millimeter Hydrogen Recombination Lines in the Large Magellanic Cloud." Here they report the first extragalactic detection of higher-order (?n>2) millimeter wave hydrogen recombination lines toward a luminous star formation region in the LMC, and use these and molecular lines to characterize the region.

  • Welcome to Marvin Jones, our new Lecturer and member of the undergrad advising team! Marvin joins us from Indiana University, where he is wrapping up his PhD thesis on cosmic rays. Marvin's office is in the PSC, just next to Leslie Sage's and Brad Cenko's office -- if you haven't introduced yourself yet, please do!

  • Dr. Kempton welcoming Pres. Pines to her class.President Pines appeared in person to greet students on the first day of Eliza Kempton's class. Everyone got a turtle pin!

  • We welcome our newest Research Professor, Stuart Vogel! Stuart comes to us from the University of Maryland, where he has been a Professor, Department Chair, Director of the Laboratory for Millimeterwave Astronomy, and has held leadership positions within the AAS.
    Welcome to Marvin Q. Jones, Jr, our new Lecturer and member of the undergrad advising team.
    Congratulations to Associate Research Scientist Constantinos Kalapotharakos, who moves to a Civil Service position at Goddard starting Sept. 25!
    And congratulations to former grad student Pradip Gatkine (PhD 2020), who recently accepted an assistant professorship at UCLA.

August 2023

  • From the MIT announcement:
    Michael McDonald (PhD 2011) focuses on the evolution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies, and the role that environment plays in dictating this evolution. This research involves the discovery and study of the most distant assemblies of galaxies alongside analyses of the complex interplay between gas, galaxies, and black holes in the closest, most massive systems. McDonald joined the Department of Physics and the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in 2015 after three years as a Hubble Fellow, also at MIT. He obtained his BS and MS degrees in physics at Queen's University, and his PhD in astronomy at the University of Maryland in College Park.

    In other former student news, Krista Smith (PhD 2017) was recruited by Texas A&M from her faculty position at Southern Methodist University. She's now joined the astronomers at A&M's Physics and Astronomy Department, a more congenial home than she had in SMU's physics-oriented department.

    Congratulations to both Mike and Krista!

  • Both of Sylvain Veilleux's HST cycle 31 proposals as PI, including a medium-size one of 44 orbits, were awarded time! The oversubscription rate in terms of orbits was apparently 19,000/2,600 ~ 7.3 in cycle 31. Congratulations Sylvain!

  • Cole Miller was quoted in a Scientific American article This Bizarre Star Could Become One of the Strongest Magnets in the Universe about a recent result (by others) on magnetars. No one will be surprised to hear that Cole's interest in magnetars is because they are highly-magnetized neutron stars, and this is one of the most extreme cases.

  • Congratulations to Astronomy major Christopher Ikpefua, who was awarded an SPS TEAM-UP Together Scholarship that supports African American students in the pursuit and attainment of their bachelor's degrees in physics and astronomy. TEAM-UP Together is "a collective action initiative led by the American Institute of Physics, American Association of Physics Teachers, American Astronomical Society, American Physical Society and the Society of Physics Students to stand with the scientific community in taking the next bold step to double the number of African American students earning physics and astronomy bachelor's degrees annually by 2030." Congratulations again Christopher!

  • This excellent news just came in about our Research Scientist Quanzhi Ye getting the Urey Prize from the Division for Planetary Scientists of the AAS. The list of awardees is quite impressive, including our own Prof. Douglas Hamilton in 1999. The Harold C. Urey Prize ('Urey Prize'), recognizes and encourages outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist. Criteria for consideration and selection include but are not limited to the innovative and creative nature of the candidate's work, leadership in the field, and ethics. CMNS elaborated on the AAS announcement. Congratulations Quanzhi!!

  • The GRAD-MAP Summer Scholars Symposium wrapped up what was obviously a great summer of research last Friday, Aug. 4. Many thanks to Katya Ledig and Arjun Savel, along with Benedikt Diemer and Stuart Vogel, for organizing the Astronomy side of things; to Serena Cronin and Alberto Bolatto for mentoring Lenin Nolasco, to Matt Nixon and Jegug Ih for mentoring Biruk Nardos to model exoplanet atmospheres; and to Daniel Serrano and the Astronomy Staff for their effective efforts on the administrative side.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Sergio Mundo, who defended his PhD thesis titled "Investigating the X-Ray Temporal and Spectral Properties of Blazars and Beamed AGN in The Swift-Bat Hard X-Ray Survey" on Wednesday, August 9th. Sergio will soon head off for a position in a research group at Vanderbilt University's medical center, where he will be working on medical data science. Congratulations Sergio!

  • David Bennett was featured in a NY Times story titled "Our Galaxy Is Home to Trillions of Worlds Gone Rogue" last week. It reports on the MOA team's microlensing studies finding that free-flying planets ejected from solar systems outnumber the number of planets bound to stars. The story includes a nifty NASA video clip of microlensing by planets.

  • Jialu Li led the team including Xander Tielens and David Neufeld that recently published "High-resolution SOFIA/EXES Spectroscopy of Water Absorption Lines in the Massive Young Binary W3 IRS 5." Using velocity-resolved spectroscopy, Jialu and company were able to unravel key elements of the structure of this hot core forming high mass stars.

  • Marta Sewilo's JWST Cycle 2 program was was originally rejected, but then approved recently! The powers that be found that the observatory's Long Range Plan was under-subscribed in early 2024 and selected additional proposals. Marta's program approaches one of the most important goals of astrochemistry, to understand the origin and evolution of complex organic molecules (COMs). The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is the nearest laboratory for detailed studies on the formation and survival of COMs under metal poor conditions, typical for the early universe.

July 2023

  • The summer has been too short and it is already time for the GRAD-MAP Summer Scholars Symposium, which will take place this Friday, Aug. 4, in the Pepco Seminar room (in the Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building, KEB 1105). During the symposium, the GRAD-MAP students will give talks on the research they have performed this summer. All members of both the Physics and Astronomy departments are welcome to join. The talk schedule runs from 10am to noon, with a poster session in the AJ Clark Hall forum room from 12:30pm to 1:30pm.

  • Chris Reynolds' return got a very nice writeup by the College covering some of his research, his work on AXIS and his role in JSI.

  • The MOA collaboration, which includes David Bennett, Aparna Bhattacharya, and Katie Vandorou had a press release on the first measurement of the free-floating planet mass function with sensitivity to planets below an Earth mass. This is based on two papers accepted by AJ: and Their analysis implies that there are ~20 free-floating (or wide orbit) planets per star, and ~6 times as many free-floating (or wide orbit) planets for bound planet. But the total mass of bound planets is probably slightly larger.

  • After the war in Ukraine started, Julia Brodsky got together with fellow scientists, educators and psychologists to start a non-profit educational initiative for displaced kids. Julia was recently interviewed by the Universe Today about Earthlings Hub.

  • We have two more new PhDs in the Department!

    Please extend your congratulations to Vicente Villanueva Llanos, who defended his PhD thesis titled "Analyzing the Star Formation Efficiency and Physical Conditions of the Molecular Gas in Nearby Galaxies" on Wednesday, July 26. Vicente will be heading off to Universidad de Concepción in Chile, where he will to join the CRISTAL project, imaging star formation at redshift 4 to 5. Congratulations Vicente!

    And then please extend more congratulations to Ben Hord, who defended his PhD thesis titled "The Shadows of Would-Be Gods: Finding Transiting Jovians, Terrestrials, and Everything in Between with TESS to Understand Hot Jupiter Formation and the Best JWST Targets" on Thursday, July 27. Ben will soon trek to Goddard Space Flight Center, where he has an NPP Fellowship and will be working on the Pandora mission to study exoplanet atmospheres. Congratulations Ben!

  • Senior Faculty Specialist Jeanette Kazmierczak won an 2023 ASD (GSFC Astrophysics Division) Peer Award: "For your tireless efforts to always go above and beyond what is required. Specifically, your unrelenting determination to carry astrophysics through the web modernization process in as thorough and thoughtful a fashion as humanly possible. Through your dedication, important NASA history will still be visible on the website." Rob Petre presented the award to Jeanette.

    And Postdoctoral Associate Sam Hull also received a 2023 ASD Peer Award "for becoming an expert microcalorimeter scientist in such a short period of time, and for being a very supportive and popular member of a cohesive team that has made exceptional achievements over the past year to enable TRL-5 to be demonstrated for the ATHENA X-IFU microcalorimeter array." Rita Sambruna presented the award to Sam.

    Congratulations Jeanette and Sam!

  • Mike Kelley, ZTF's Solar System Working Group Co-Lead, sends the good news that NSF has extended its operations for another year:
    ZTF-II was originally conceived to overlap with the LIGO-Virgo-KARGA observing run O4 which started in late May 2023, and to overlap with the LSST survey of the Vera Rubin Observatory. ZTF-II comes to an end on October 1, 2023, while O4 will continue through December 2024.
    We are pleased to inform the astronomy community that the National Science Foundation is providing funds of ~1 million USD to support ZTF operations for an additional year. Separately, several existing and new partners have also agreed to support operations for another year.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Carrie Holt, who defended her PhD thesis titled "A Song of Fire & Ice: Evolutionary Properties of Hot & Cold Small Bodies" on Friday, July 14. Carrie is off to a fellowship at the Las Cumbres Observatory, where she will extend her dissertation work and be working on interfaces with the data flood from the Rubin Observatory. Congratulations Carrie!

  • Undergrad Astronomy and Physics major Austin Humphreys, in a continuation of his work from last summer, is helping to launch the Backyard Worlds: Cool Neighbors project on June 27th. Cool Neighbors is a NASA-funded citizen science project developed as a part of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) NOIRLab to promote and extend the search for infrared-emitting substellar objects, particularly brown dwarfs, in the local neighborhood of the Sun. As a citizen science project, progress is determined by those who choose to participate. With almost 28 thousand candidates ready for citizen scientists to search through upon launch, it is expected that many new brown dwarf discoveries are just waiting to be found.
    Interested in participating? Check the Zooniverse site for the Cool Neighbors project for more information. And Happy searching!

  • The recent IAU-WGSBN Bulletin 3, #9 (newsletter publishing new asteroid names) had several asteroids named after current and former department members:
    • (32191) Bensharkey -- Benjamin N. L. Sharkey is an American astronomer at the University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland) who specializes in reflectance spectroscopy of primitive asteroids and outer Solar System irregular satellites.
    • (28888) Agrusa -- Harrison Agrusa is an American astronomer. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in 2022 and contributed significantly to modeling binary asteroid Didymos for the NASA DART mission, including interpreting the impact outcome and the target's post-impact state.
    • (30411) Besse -- Sébastien Besse (b. 1980) is a French planetary scientist at the European Space Agency (Madrid, Spain). He studies the surface properties of comets, asteroids, the Moon, and Mercury.
    Congratulations to Ben and Harrison in particular!

  • Elizabeth Ferrara was a member of the NANOGrav team that made big waves with their announcement of a stochastic background of gravitational waves caused by merging black holes. Other familiar names of those involved are former postdoc or grad students Laura Blecha, Megan DeCeasar, Kayhan Gultekin, and Tingting Liu. Media reports showed up in the NY Times, Washington Post, CMNS press release, and many other places. .The results are in a set of four ApJ papers -- part of the abstract of the overview paper is:
    We report multiple lines of evidence for a stochastic signal that is correlated among 67 pulsars from the 15 yr pulsar timing data set collected by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves. The correlations follow the Hellings-Downs pattern expected for a stochastic gravitational-wave background. ... The inferred gravitational-wave background amplitude and spectrum are consistent with astrophysical expectations for a signal from a population of supermassive black hole binaries, although more exotic cosmological and astrophysical sources cannot be excluded.
    In a sign of science politics, there was little mention of the obviously carefully coordinated parallel announcement from the European Pulsar Timing Array (in part combining with Indian Pulsar Timing Array data). And, at least the German news I saw, those collaborations correspondingly ignored the US release. Apparently there will be a combination of all the data now that the groups have made their individual announcements.
    Congratulations to Elizabeth and all involved!

  • More congratulations, now to Blake Hartley, who defended his PhD thesis titled "Simulating Bursty and Continuous Reionization Using GPU Computing" on Wednesday June 28th. Blake will continue working as a software developer for a company in Reston, Virginia. Congratulations Blake!

  • Please extend your congratulations to Teal, who defended their PhD thesis titled "Photochemistry of Exoplanet Atmospheres: Modelling Alien Chemistry Accurately and Self-Consistently" on Tuesday June 20th. Teal said they are in the final stages of negotiating an offer with NOIRLab to work in a software development position for Gemini. It would be a remote job (Teal would reside in California), and they would travel to both Hawaii and Chile on a regular basis. Congratulations again, Teal, and best wishes that your negotiations are a success!

  • I'm delighted to announce that Chris Reynolds has officially returned to our professorial faculty, effective July 1, after a stint as the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge University. (Isaac Newton helped establish it, so it's the natural kind of philosophy.) For those who don't know him, Chris is an outstanding theoretical and observational X-ray astrophysicist. He is the PI of the AXIS Probe-class mission proposal, and has taken up directorship of the UMD-GSFC Joint Space Sciences Institute (JSI). Chris and Neil Gehrels worked together to found JSI, and Chris was the inaugural UMD JSI director. Welcome back Chris!

June 2023

  • The transient universe is keeping a lot of people busy. A research team led by UMD astronomer Brendan O'Connor, with Igor Andreoni, Brad Cenko, Joe Durback, Erica Hammerstein, Alexander Kutyrev, and Goku Srinivasaragavan published a new paper "A structured jet explains the extreme GRB 221009A" about a gamma-ray burst dubbed the "BOAT" -- brightest of all time. Their study in Science Advances offers an explanation for the BOAT's persistent afterglow, which lasted for months after its explosion. They believe it comes down to the unusual structure of the BOAT's jet, which exhibited a narrow core with wide, sloping wings. Read more in the CMNS press release.

  • Congratulations to Igor Andreoni for his recent paper, "Uncovering a population of gravitational lens galaxies with magnified standard candle SN Zwicky," published in Nature Astronomy this morning! An international team of researchers, including Igor Andrioni, discovered a rare gravitationally lensed supernova, which they named SN Zwicky. Located more than 4 billion light years away, the supernova was magnified nearly 25 times by a foreground galaxy acting as a 'cosmic magnifying glass.' The team's findings present a unique chance for astronomers to learn more about the fundamental forces shaping our universe, including the Hubble constant (a value that describes how fast the universe is expanding). CMNS has a nice press release on this, which also turned up in the University's research news summary. Not only that, but Forbes picked it up too, a rare case where a supernova shakes the world of finance -- perhaps dark energy or formation of heavy elements are a draw?

  • Eliza Kempton is a co-I on a UV cube-sat mission, MANTIS, that was recently selected. MANTIS carries a far-UV telescope to monitor flares from stars. Combined with JWST data on the orbiting exoplanets, this allows study of the effects of UV bursts on planetary atmospheres. Sounds like fun as long as it's not our atmosphere!

  • More JWST Cycle 2 awards
    • Mike Kelley is the co-PI of a project to study the water ice properties of three distant comets, all of which have perihelion distances of at least 8.8 au where temperatures are cold enough to test for the existence of the elusive amorphous water ice.
    • John Carr is PI of "Evolution of Chemical Diversity in Inner Disks: Core Accretion and Pebble Inflow," which was approved for 19 hours of MIRI-MRS observations of planet forming disks in the iC 348 cluster.
    • Ben Sharkey is PI of "Deciphering Jupiter's Irregular Satellites: A Critical Test of Giant Planet Migration." This program targets small captured satellites of Jupiter that lie in chaotic, loosely-bound orbits. By identifying the specific material compositions of these satellites, we will assess their origins in comparison with asteroids and trans-Neptunian objects to test how primitive, organic-rich planetesimals were transported in the early solar system.
    • Alberto Bolatto is co-I on a number of projects this cycle.

  • Welcome GRAD-MAP Scholars! The GRAD-MAP 2023 Summer Scholars have arrived, and had their introductory meeting on Monday last week. Six Scholars are in this year's cohort -- the list below shows a wide range of research topics with mentors from Astronomy, Physics, and IPST.
    • Lenin Nolasco (he/him): Radio astronomy with Serena Cronin, Alberto Bolatto
    • Biruk Nardos (he/him): Modeling exoplanet atmospheres with Jegug Ih, Matt Nixon
    • Bryan Coronel (he/him): Dynamical analysis of morphological changes, movement and force generation by cellular components with Arpita Upadhyaya, Frank Fazekas, Matthew Connell
    • Rodney Speight (he/him): Gamma rays with Jordan Goodman
    • Noah Nickens (they/them): Analysis, visualization of biological systems with Esteban Wright, Wolfgang Losert
    • Anisah Khattak (she/her): Quantum information with Jacob Bringewatt
    Please say hello when you see them. Many thanks to Daniel Serrano, Arjun Savel, Katya Ledig, Benedikt Diemer, Stuart Vogel, Susan Lehr, John Cullinan, Barbara Hansborough, Lauren Miles, Olivia Dent, Dorinda Kimbrell, Kevin Rauch, and staff in Physics and IPST for all of the background work that has made for such a smooth start to this year's group. Now, on to research projects!

May 2023

  • The big news this week is in commencement activities to celebrate our new graduating students! Congratulations to all of our 2023 graduates, undergrads and PhDs! College commencements are Monday (grad students) and Tuesday (undergrads). Congratulations to all graduating students!

  • In rumors of the JWST Cycle 2 awards in the Department...
    • Ell Bogart is the PI of a JWST Cycle 2 General Observer Program, with Co-PI Joshua Schlieder at NASA Goddard. This is a high-contrast imaging program with NIRCam to follow up an intriguing exoplanet candidate they discovered in Cycle 1. The candidate has a projected separation of ~90 AU from a M dwarf, and if confirmed, it would be the lowest mass exoplanet ever directly imaged! This follows on work started for their second-year project.
    • Sylvain Veilleux's medium-size proposal on ULIRG winds was approved to follow up on his team's Spitzer and Herschel studies of these objects.
    I imagine there are other awards I haven't heard about yet -- please let us all know! The competition was stiff, with an oversubscription of 7.1.

  • Mike Kelley's Nature paper titled "Spectroscopic identification of water emission from a main-belt comet" was published last week. Key takeaways from the abstract are:
    Although the existence of main-belt comets implies the presence of extant water ice in the asteroid belt, no gas has been detected around these objects despite intense scrutiny with the world's largest telescopes. Here, we present JWST observations which clearly show that main-belt comet 238P/Read has a coma of water vapour, but lacks a significant CO2 gas coma. Our findings demonstrate that the activity of comet Read is driven by water-ice sublimation, and implies that main-belt comets are fundamentally different from the general cometary population.
    CMNS and then the Research News picked this up with this press release. Congratulations to Mike for this fundamental new result from JWST!
    Speaking of Mike Kelley and new results, Mike will be one of the presenters at tonight's (22 May) Astronomy on Tap DC, with his talk "Why do these asteroids look like comets?" He'll likely talk about some fantastic JWST observations of a certain asteroidal comet. May 22, 8-11 pm, at the DC9 Nightclub, 1940 9th Street NW, DC. (ps: The June S&T has a long article about "active asteroids" as well.)

  • Congratulations to DeOndre Kittrell, who has been completing a postbac through PHASER at Goddard for the last two years and is a prior GRAD-MAP participant. DeOndre will be attending the New Jersey Institute of Technology for graduate school starting in the Fall.

  • Joe DeMartini has been awarded a Chateaubriand Fellowship to spend 9 months in France -- congratulations, Joe!

  • Our colleague Christine Hartzell, associate professor of aerospace engineering and director of the Planetary Surfaces and Spacecraft Lab, has been selected to join the Science Working Team for the Martian Moons eXplorer Mission, which is sending a spacecraft to Phobos-one of two moons that orbit Mars-with a launch planned in 2024. Hartzell is among ten U.S. scientists tapped by NASA for the mission.

  • College Park Scholars has announced that the Science, Discovery and the Universe (SDU) Scholars program will close at the end of this academic year. The decision was made by mutual agreement between College Park Scholars, the Department of Astronomy, and CMNS. For a nice appreciation and more details see the College Park Scholars announcement.

  • Congratulations to our former grad student Amy Steele, who will become the Director of Astronomy and Research at Yerkes Observatory in June. Amy has big ideas and plans for the Observatory and is truly looking forward to seeing what she'll accomplish! The Lake Geneva Regional News has a wonderful article about Amy, the position, and the observatory.

  • On behalf of the Awards committee of last year's winners (Milena Crnogorčević, Erica Harrison, Chris Hunt, Mike Kelley, Eliza Kempton, and Cole Miller) I'm very pleased to announce this year's departmental awards:
    • Postdoctoral Scientist Prize for Excellence - Igor Andrioni, for his scientific work, generous help and advice, and co-running Hot Papers
    • Distinguished Research Scientist Prize - Ian Richardson, for his scientific work, excellence in manuscript review, and mentorship
    • Technical Professional Staff Prize for Excellence - Anne Raugh, for her work with PDS4 and New Horizons
    • Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize - Cole Miller, for inspiring and supporting his students
    • Administrative Professional Staff Prize for Excellence - Mona Susanto, for her deep and generous expertise in all things grants and budgets
    • Prize for Excellence in Mentoring - Massimo Ricotti, for being a caring and perceptive advisor
    • Departmental Service Award - two prizes, including our first-ever combined prize
      • Erica Hammerstein, for her contributions to Department, College, and University committees
      • Serena Cronin, Isiah Holt, and Ramsey Karim, for helping bring the Department back together with ACE coffees
    Congratulations and many thanks to all of the winners for making the Department a better place! There are plenty of deserving people, and it's never too early to nominate someone for next year's awards at this link (you can also find it from our Department web pages: Resources/Internal/Department Awards).

  • Eliza Kempton led a Nature paper titled "A reflective, metal-rich atmosphere for GJ 1214b from its JWST phase curve" that garnered substantial attention last week. Eliza, together with UMD coauthors Jegug Ih, Arjun Savel, Kenneth Arnold, Matthew Nixon, and Matej Malik -- plus a bunch of others on the observational side -- measured the light emitted by a sub-Neptune planet's atmosphere for the first time. With JWST data they discovered that GJ 1214 -- an exoplanet about 40 light-years away from Earth -- likely contains water vapor and is primarily composed of molecules heavier than hydrogen.
    CMNS prepared with a news release which was also linked by the week's research summary from the VPR's office. Even more fun, Eliza was interviewed by NPR's Morning Edition, and the story was doubtless picked up elsewhere. Congratulations to the entire team and Eliza in particular!

  • Mike Kelley will be one of the presenters at the next Astronomy on Tap DC, with his talk "Why do these asteroids look like comets?" He might even talk about some fantastic JWST observations of a certain asteroidal comet, if his paper is out by then, which is likely. May 22, 8-11 pm, at the DC9 Nightclub, 1940 9th Street NW, DC. (ps: The June S&T has a long article about "active asteroids" as well.)

  • C.J. Turner, A.I. Harris, T.E. Murphy and M. Stephen, "Nonlinear Power Response in Heterodyne Photonic Radiometers for Microwave Remote Sensing," in IEEE Photonics Technology Letters. This paper is part of Charles Turner's ECE PhD thesis work, exploring the different nonlinear responses of electro-optical modulators to continuous wave and broadband noise signals.

  • MD Day 25 yr logoMany thanks to Andres Ardon, Tilden Barnes, Cecilia Chirenti, Jordan Ealy, Tony Farnham, Austen Fourkas, Fred Garcia, Josh Garfinkel, Thomas Griffith, Tobi Hammond, Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, Erika Hoffman, Ben Hord, Brooke Kaluzienski, Tad Komacek, Peter Kozlov, Katya Leidig, Madeline Lessard, Siobhan Light, Satvik Manjigani, Lauren Miles, Cole Miller, Joao Pereira, Kevin Rauch, Sebastian Rivera-Munoz, Vicente Villanueva Llanos, Kanaparthy Yugadeep, Abdu Zoghbi, and doubtless others I've missed, for putting on such a fine experience at Maryland Day! Next year we hope for drier feet, and maybe fewer problems from the purple line construction! Special thanks to Elizabeth Warner for organizing yet another great Maryland Day.

  • Congratulations to Alex Dittmann, who has been selected to receive the Michael J. Pelczar Award for Excellence in Graduate Study for 2023! The Pelczar Award provides $2,500 to a doctoral candidate who has served at least one academic year as a teaching assistant with commendable performance, and who has demonstrated excellence beyond his or her course work. One, and occasionally two, awards are given each year for the entire campus. Alex is only the second Astronomy student to win the award; Krista Smith received it in 2016. Congratulations to Alex, and thanks to Cole for nominating him!

  • Congratulations to Derek for winning a M.O.S.T. Faculty OER Grant for updates and other improvements to ASTR120/121. His proposal was awarded a $1,000 Adopt/Adapt OER grant plus no-cost participation in the Lumen Circles Fellowship. Congratulations!

  • I'm really pleased to relay the news that the Graduate School has selected our department as one of the first to receive a Departmental Award for Graduate Student Mentorship! The award recognizes both our strong Statement of Expectations for Graduate Student Mentoring and excellent feedback from our graduate students on the gradSERU survey questions about the quality of faculty mentoring and advising. This is not an end point, but is encouragement that we are on the right track.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Milena Crnogorčević, who defended her PhD thesis titled "New Messengers and New Physics: A Survey of the High-energy Universe" on Monday April 24. Milena will soon be off to Stockholm for a postdoctoral fellowship at the Oskar Klein Centre to work with Tim Linden, and also spending some time at the CCAPP at the OSU to work with John Beacom. Congratulations Milena!

April 2023

  • More news about Alyssa Pagan! TU alumnae help bring space to life at James Webb Space Telescope

  • Many congratulations to our undergrad Fred Garcia, who has been selected as one of Maryland's "Undergraduate Researchers of the Year" for 2023 on Massimo Ricotti's nomination. This recognition includes an award of $1000 and a plaque. Fred will receive his award at the 'Undergraduate Researchers of the Year' award session this Wednesday, April 26 at 1:00 pm, in the Grand Ballroom of the Stamp Student Union. The ceremony opens Undergraduate Research Day (URD). Fred is off to Columbia for grad school this fall. Congratulations again to Fred for such well-earned recognition!

  • With the April 15 AAS formal deadline for responses tomorrow, we have completed our grad admissions process. Here is the incoming generation of 8 students, their current institutions, and their interests (so far, at least).
    • Enrico Biancalani (Leiden U) - astro instrumentation
    • Lacey Allee-Press (UMd) - extragalactic obs
    • Yash Gursahani (UCLA) - high energy obs
    • Kylie Hansen (MIT) - extragalactic obs
    • Zuzanna Kocjan (Univ College London) - simulations
    • Matthew Lastovka (OSU) - exoplanet theory
    • Sander Somers (Glasgow U) - exoplanet atmospheric modeling
    • Mark Ivan Ugalino (UMass Dartmouth) - simulations
    Many thanks to Alberto Bolatto for leading the Admission Committee of Stuart Vogel, Cole Miller, and Jessica Sunshine; key support from Ben Hord, Erica Hammerstein, Rye Volpert, Arjun Savel, Amanda Broadmeadow, Serena Cronin, Joe DeMartini; organization by the incredible team of John Cullinan, Olivia Dent, and Lauren Miles; all of the professorial faculty for reading all the applications; and of course the excellent visits lead by Jordan Ealy and Giannina Guzman Caloca with participation by so many of the graduate students. It takes the whole department to do this every year, and everyone deserves a big round of applause!

  • Thanks to the administrative staff for highlighting another program -- this time 60 minutes -- on JWST imaging that includes a segment with our former student and staff member Alyssa Pagan.

    Also, another interesting media blip about improving the fuzzy donut image of the photon orbits around M87's black hole using machine learning (basically, let the machine loose on a whole set of simulations and see what it comes up with from the actual data). For more, google for your favorite news outlet and see the original paper "The Image of the M87 Black Hole Reconstructed with PRIMO."

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. ChongChong He, who defended his PhD thesis titled "Multiscale Radiation-MHD Simulations of Compact Star Clusters" on Friday April 14. ChongChong will be off to a postdoc with Mark Krumholz (Australian National Observatory) to further develop numerical codes to model galactic winds. Congratulations ChongChong!

  • Undergrad Astronomy and Physics major Austin Humphreys has a first-author paper out for his research from last summer. Check out "The Backyard Worlds: Cool Neighbors Citizen Science Project" in Compendium of Undergraduate Research in Astronomy and Space Science by the ASP. (Melissa Hayes-Gehrke is looking into how to submit to this compendium, as we have plenty of worthy contributions we could make.)

  • The Planetary Data System, of which our Small Bodies Node (SBN) led by Gerbs Bauer is a key part, has been recognized by NASA HQ with a high-level award. From the citation:
    "On behalf of our NASA HQ colleagues and the PDS Project Office I am happy to announce that the PDS team has been selected by NASA HQ for its 2022 Silver Group Achievement Award. This is one of NASA's most prestigious team awards for accomplishments that have contributed substantially towards NASA's missions, goals and values. The award goes to all of our PDS colleagues who, from its beginnings more than a decade ago, have contributed to the design, development, and ongoing support of the PDS4 information model. As you know, PDS4 information model has now been accepted as an international standard, by which, most of the world's planetary mission data are now curated. This award is long overdue and serves as an enduring testament to our dedicated team of scientists, engineers and administrative staff members who have, and continue to contribute to the PDS and PDS4."
    Congratulations to our SBN colleagues for receiving this well-deserved recognition!

  • Congratulations to Arjun Savel, who has won the CMNS three-minute thesis (3MT) competition in the Pre-Candidacy category! He receives a prize of $500 from the College, and his name goes on to the Graduate School for the campus-level competition. We will watch closely (if for only 3 minutes) how the next round goes!

  • Amanda Broadmeadow has been awarded an NSF GRFP Fellowship! NSF's Graduate Research Fellowships Program provides prestigious Fellowships "to ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States." Amanda is working with CRESST scientist Marta Sewilo at Goddard with Lee Mundy serving as her academic advisor. Way to go Amanda! From CMNS: Eighteen Science Terps Awarded 2023 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

March 2023

February 2023

  • Congratulations to Dr. Ronald Gamble, who is an integral part of the Black in Astro team which was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Annie Maunder Medal for 2023! Black in Astro "is a grassroots organization and community that focuses on inspiring, developing, and enriching Black space scientists." Dr. Gamble's work with Black in Astro "brings together outreach and community empowerment, beyond a model of recruitment: communicating astronomy to the public, diversifying early career researcher cohorts, and building a true community." For more information about the Black in Astro's achievements, please see the write-up of the Annie Maunder Medal Black in Astro 2023.

  • Please extend your congratulations to Dr. Jialu Li, who defended her PhD thesis titled "Molecular Spectroscopy of Star Forming Regions: Cool and Hot, Close and Far" on Friday February 24. Jialu will stay with us for a two-year postdoc working on SOFIA and related data on high mass star formation with Xander Tielens. Congratulations Jialu!

  • Benedikt Diemer's Sloan award kept popping up across the University announcements including the CMNS release repeated on MarylandToday Two Faculty Members Receive 2023 Sloan Research Fellowships. If you haven't read the release, it includes quotes from Benedikt and Dean Varshney, along with this explanation: "Awarded this year to 126 of the brightest young scientists across the U.S. and Canada, the fellowships are also often seen as a marker of the quality of an institution's science faculty and proof of an institution's success in attracting the most promising junior researchers to its ranks."
    Marc Pound and Mark Wolfire were interviewed by Frank Timmes as part of the AAS Journal Author Series for their recently published paper about the PDR Toolbox. Available on YouTube or explore the AAS YouTube channel. Marc says it was a fun experience, and recommends it for any department member if they are asked after they publish a paper (Frank is also open to volunteers).
    And a belated reference about the Green Comet -- Tony Farnham's January 24 interview on WUSA9!

  • I am delighted to convey the excellent news that Prof. Benedikt Diemer has been selected as a 2023 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Physics. He is one of only two selected by the Sloan Foundation for this honor on the entire UMD campus this year. This high honor reflects the importance and impact of Benedikt's work so far, and also recognizes his future promise. Read the CMNS release: Two UMD Faculty Members Receive 2023 Sloan Research Fellowships. If you haven't yet, please congratulate Benedikt when you see him!

  • Dr. Laura Vega was chosen to be the CRESST II Scientist of the Month featured for February 2023. Dr. Vega is postdoctoral researcher in the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at the University of Maryland, College Park.

  • Our alum Jim Ulvestad has been appointed as NSF's Acting Director of Polar Programs. A bio including highlights of the positions he has held is in NSF's announcement of his appointment.

  • Continuing the Green Comet media blitz, Mike Kelly and Carrie Holt star in a New Yorker article What the Green Comet Tells Us About the Past-and the Future. As Mike notes, they stubbornly refuse to correct the error citing its emission of tear gas (chloroacetophenone) instead of cyanogen (CN). Mike did see the comet through binoculars, confirming that his eyes were unaffected by tear gas. The New Yorker had a reputation for fierce fact-checking, but I guess no more. Mike was on the radio, too, WTOP and NPR's Morning Edition (which I heard while driving to campus), and hit the international press with NatGeo France. Carrie and Matthew Knight appear in a Popular Science article A green comet is visiting us from the edge of the solar system, and astronomers are thrilled, too. Quite something!

  • Joe DeMartini is the 2nd (but fully co-first) author on an MNRAS accepted paper that includes Derek Richardson in the author list. The paper, which Joe previewed at last week's Hot Papers, stems from a collaboration I started with a student at Auburn University. The work numerically investigates potential surface refreshing from tidal and other forces on Apophis during its 2029 close Earth encounter.

  • Alice Allen has been selected as a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society! Her citation reads "Alice Allen: For her great insight, deep knowledge, leading advocacy, and inspiring achievements involving open-source astronomy software; for making astronomy a more efficient science by creating avenues to release and cite research software; and for building, editing, and promoting the Astrophysics Source Code Library, a pioneering code repository that now registers more than 2,000 [actually, over 3000 by now] of the most useful codes in astronomy and astrophysics." Send your congratulations to Alice for her work in the best tradition of public service!

  • The AstroTerps, with help from Elizabeth Warner, ran a phenomenally successful viewing of Comet ZTF (C/2022 E3 ZTF, aka the Green Comet) last week! With the weather aligning with the scheduled event, reports are that some 300 to 400 people visited the AstroTerps at the M-circle hill to look through telescopes and binoculars at the comet. AstroTerps leader Siobhan Light posted a photo of the event to the Department's Slack channel -- too dark to make a count, but clearly a lot of people! Participants were also able to get some pizza (probably for the first batch to show up), and collect NASA-related swag. Congratulations to Siobhan, the other AstroTerps involved. and to Elizabeth!
    The comet is getting fainter (6th magnitude today), but it is moving up the leading side (Capella side) of Auriga this week, close to some of the constellation's brighter stars or well-placed between them, which will help in finding it. After moving between Auriga and Mars on Thursday, it will be passing close to Mars on Friday and Saturday as it continues to dim.

January 2023

  • Another bumper crop of publications and interviews (some of which I forgot to include last week by accident) -- keep them coming! I'm sure there are more than I hear about.

  • In the spirit of noting Department members' good news, I pass along the news that I've been selected as a Fellow of the AAS with the citation: "Andrew Harris: For the development of innovative radio-, millimeter-, and submillimeter-wavelength instrumentation, and for insightful studies of the star-forming interstellar medium in our galaxy and in galaxies across cosmic time."

  • Congratulations to Jegug for being awarded an Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award! 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. In a more concrete appreciation, Jegug will receive a credit for mandatory fees for Spring 2023. Congratulations!

  • Congratulations to Levon Avanov, who received Patent number 11531011 for "Imaging Device with Gated Integrator" on December 20, 2022!

  • Maryland claims three NASA ExoExplorers this round: Ell Bogat and former undergrads Junellie Gonzalez Quiles (graduated in December 2018, now in the grad program at JHU), and Alison Duck (graduated in May 2019, now in the grad program at OSU). We just missed Ell's web presentation on Friday, Jan 20, but Alison's is scheduled for Feb 17th and Junellie's for May 12. Check the ExoExplorers web page for links to the webinars. The Exoplanet Explorers (ExoExplorers) Science Series is sponsored by the ExoPAG Executive Committee and the NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, aims to enable the professional development of a cohort of graduate students and/or postdocs in exoplanet research ("ExoExplorers"). Each member of the cohort will be featured in a webinar that will be live streamed to the exoplanet community, helping to increase their visibility within the field. The cohort will also engage with established exoplanet researchers ("ExoGuides") via a combination of tailored presentations and small group discussions.

  • In other publication news, Mike Kelly was quoted from the NY Times article How to Watch the 'Green Comet' While You Still Can on a comet discovered by the ZTF:
    Comet C/2022 E3 (Z.T.F.) made its closest approach to the sun on Jan. 12, and the comet is now steadily brightening as it swings toward the Earth. While the comet won't pass us until Feb. 2, it is already nearly visible to the naked eye - an encouraging sign for viewing opportunities, said Mike Kelley, an astronomer at the University of Maryland and the co-lead of the solar system working group at the Zwicky Transient Facility.
    We're still waiting to see how Mike's and Carrie Holt's interviews with the New Yorker and National Geographic France look. The comet's closest approach to Earth will be Feb. 2, and around Jan. 30 it will be halfway along a line between the Big Dipper's "pointer stars" and Polaris. More information and finder charts in the Sky & Telescope article Forget the hype and go outside to enjoy the real thing - a relatively bright comet you can see in binoculars from a dark sky.

  • We have a bumper crop of publications to report this week:

  • We had a bunch of Department members at the AAS. Most prominent of the many talks that Department members gave was Richard Mushotzky's Henry Norris Russell Lecture. Former JSI Fellow Erin Kara (now MIT faculty) gave her Newton Lacy Pierce Prize lecture as well. In prospective Probe-class missions, AXIS (PI Chris Reynolds) had its own splinter session, with a far-IR splinter session covering SPICE (PI Lee Mundy) and PRIMA (co-I Alberto Bolatto, with Sylvain Veilleux on the science team). I didn't find LEM in the program, which has Anna Ogorzalek (member of the core management team) and Sylvain (science working group), but that may well be my error. AXIS also had a booth at AAS that John Cullinan supported masterfully.
    And from Peter Teuben: "I just finished a grueling but rewarding 2-day 'Software Carpentry Workshop' at the Seattle AAS. They use a particular style of teaching that I may talk about at another opportunity. Suffice to say, you co-teach this with another person, and two helpers, and involved a red and green sticky for the 30 learners. Already ran into lots of Maryland current and former students. Quite a few of us were at the AAS, I'd hate to list them all, because I will likely miss so many of our alumni. Did you know that our alumnus Trish Henning is now the VLA director? I think I missed that news. Lee and I also participated in the LMT booth (we had 6 others from UMass, ...). Richard gave a fabulous prize-talk. All plenary talks will be online soon (Vimeo I think). My own highlight, apart from a stellar 10 minute science talk on Shell Galaxies, was co-teaching a grueling and rewarding 2-day Software Carpentry workshop (AAS sponsored) on bash, python and git. We had 30 students, Their style of teaching is very interesting and different. We are considering one for ADASS as well."
    Please let me know of other highlights from AAS!

  • The GRAD-MAP Co-Leads Katya Leidig, Arjun Savel, and Rob Dalka report that the 10th GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop, which was held virtually this year, went spectacularly!!! This year we welcomed 6 incredible students from near and far. They spent the week learning python, professional development skills, and working independently with mentors on specific challenge problems in physics and astronomy. The week ended with a fabulous presentation session by the students. We would like to thank the mentors from the astronomy department, Elizabeth Warner, Matthew Nixon, and Esteban Wright, for cultivating an excellent learning environment and providing unparalleled support and mentorship over such a short period of time! We also had 11 other incredible volunteers from the astronomy department who made this program possible! Thank you all for volunteering your time and expertise!! And last but not least, please give a the co-leads who made this all happen a big round of applause! You can read more about this year's student cohort and the activities they got up to on the GRAD-MAP twitter account.

  • Congratulations to Alex Dittmann for being awarded an Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award! 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. In a more concrete appreciation, Alex will receive a credit for mandatory fees for Spring 2023. Congratulations!

  • In more AGU news, Derek Richardson reports on DART's press conference announcing their average estimate for the all-important beta parameter, which is 3.6 (meaning, the ejecta imparted 3.6 times as much momentum to Dimorphos as the spacecraft did). This BBC news story has more details and includes a photo featuring several UMD folks!

  • Tad Komacek, Daniel Koll & Jun Yang (Peking University), and Mark Hammond (Oxford University), organized an AGU Session titled "Atmospheres, Climate, and Potential Habitability of Rocky Exoplanets." This included two oral sessions for a total of 15 talks, 18 in-person posters, and 7 online posters. The session description is: Exoplanet discoveries of the past decade have shown that every star hosts at least 0.1-1 roughly Earth-sized, or rocky, planets. Our galaxy therefore contains billions of rocky worlds, vastly outnumbering the 4 rocky planets of our own Solar System. What are these worlds like? This session invites submissions that probe the nature of rocky exoplanets, including: What can our Solar System teach us about rocky exoplanets? How different are atmospheres and climates on rocky planets around other stars, on rocky planets in exotic orbital states, or on rocky planets with radically different formation histories? How can we characterize such planets via observations? And could the processes that kept Earth habitable over billions of years also occur elsewhere?

  • Tad Komacek reports on two new papers: One paper is led by recent UMD Astronomy graduate (now ASU Ph.D student) Yoav Rotman, and demonstrates the potential detectability of the carbon dioxide-methane biosignature pair in the atmosphere of TRAPPIST-1e with JWST NIRSpec/PRISM using 3D circulation modeling with the ExoCAM GCM. Tad leads the second paper, which couples predictions for the internal evolution of hot and ultra-hot Jupiters to MITgcm simulations of their atmospheric dynamics. We show that the internal heat flux can affect the thermal structure and winds of hot and ultra-hot Jupiters and must be taken into account to provide a complete picture of their atmospheric circulation.

Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II    Joint Space-Science Center    Two intriguing investigations -- One flight-proven spacecraft    UMd Astronomy-Cote d'Azur Observatory Scientific Cooperation and Academic Exchange