University of Virginia Department of Astronomy, Photo Courtesy of Jack Looney(
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The Large Binocular Telescope image of Loki Patera (orange), a lava lake on Jupiter's moon Io, laid over a Voyager image of the volcanic depression. The infrared emission (in orange color) appears spread out in the north-south direction due to the telescope point-spread function; it is mainly localized to the southern corners of the lake. Check out this article about how UVA was involved in the capture of such a unique image! Credit: LBTO-NASA

Recent News

15 May 2015
Graduate Student Sandra Liss was the Departmental Award Winner in this year's Graduate Teaching Awards Competition for her dedication to teaching in the Department of Astronomy. This award, from the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, in collaboration with the University's Teaching Resource Center, recognizes the university's best graduate student teachers and carries an honorarium.

14 May 2015
Professor Kelsey Johnson's research on the ALMA detection of birthplaces of soon-to-be globular clusters was featured in a press release article in the Washington Post. Check out the article, "This cosmic 'dinosaur egg' is about to hatch" on the Washington Post website.

Also, check out Professor Johnson's interview on the UVA radio station, WTJU, about our own Dark Skies, Bright Kids.

8 May 2015
Undergraduate Tracy Esman is the recipient of the department's Limber Award, which recognizes the most outstanding Astrophysics graduate each year in terms of research and academics. She did her thesis with Anne Verbiscer on the Martian atmosphere, and will be attending the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab for graduate school.

Undergraduate Avery Bailey is the recipient of the department's Vyssotsky Prize, which recognizes an outstanding third year Astrophysics major. It comes with $1000 for research-related travel. Avery has been working with Craig Sarazin on analyzing XMM-Newton X-ray data on the merging cluster Abell 2061.

3 May 2015
Graduate student Xiaping Tang was awarded the Allan T. Gwathmey Memorial Award recognizing the best paper by a UVa graduate student on a “fundamental problem in the physical sciences.” The prize-winning paper is Tang, X., & Chevalier, R. A. 2015, “Time-Dependent Diffusive Shock Acceleration in Slow Supernova Remnant Shocks,” Astrophysical Journal, 800, 103, 10 pp. With the award there is a $5,000 cash prize.

Graduate students Chris Irwin and Sean Linden were awarded Virginia Space Grant Consotium Graduate Fellowships for the 2015-2016 academic year.

2 May 2015
Astronomy Professor Mike Skrutskie and former grad student Jarron Leisenring were part of a team of astronomers who used the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona to image a large lava lake around the volcano Loki on Jupiter's moon Io. Normally, this lake is too small to be imaged by telescopes on Earth, but these observations used the L and M-Band Infrared Camera (LMIRCam) to combine the light from the two 8-meter telescopes to produce an image with the resolution of an approximately 23 meter telescope. LMIRCam was designed and built at U.Va., and its construction was part of Jarron Leisenring's Ph.D. thesis. The press release on Thursday was widely covered by the science media. Check out the beautiful images and movie (including an eclipse by the moon Europa) here, and also the Astronomy Picture of the Month at the right.

15 April 2015
Undergraduate student Catherine Zucker's research on the structure of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, was recently featured in an article in the UVA Magazine. Catherine will be continuing this research while pursuing a Ph.D. at Harvard University in the Fall.

2 April 2015
UVaToday recently featured a nice article about Assistant Professor Nitya Kallivayalil highlighting her work and her recent NSF CAREER award (see below).

Graduate student Jake Turner was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a UVA Double Hoo Research Grant with undergraduate Robin Leiter. graduate student Andrew Burkhardt and undergraduate Catherine Zucker were awarded honorable mention for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

30 March 2015
Graduate student Sandy Liss won a University Department Graduate Teaching Award from the Office of the Vice President for Research. The award recognizes the university's best graduate student teachers and carries an honorarium of $450.

Undergraduate Astronomy-Physics major David Bixel was elected to the Beta Chapter of Virginia of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and arguably the most distinguished undergraduate honor society in the country.

30 March 2015
Graduate student Trey Wenger was inducted into the prestigious UVA honor society, the Raven Society

23 March 2015
Graduate students Loreto Barcos, Lauren Bittle, Kristen Jones, and Trey Wenger were awarded prizes for their research presentations at the 2015 Huskey Research Exhibition.

17 March 2015
Assistant Professor Nitya Kallivayalil was awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER award. According to the NSF, these are "the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations." Nitya's project is entitled "The Dynamics of Local Group Substructure as the Key to Understanding Dark Matter and Galaxy Formation". The grant will last for five years, and provides a total of $754,824 in research support.

23 February 2015
Assistant Professor Shane Davis has won a prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for his work in theoretical and computational astrophysics. As noted in the letter from the Sloan Foundation President, Dr. Paul Joskow, "the Sloan Research Fellowships are extraordinarily competitive awards involving nominations for most of the very best early-career scientists from the United States and Canada." Shane came to U.Va. this fall from the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics. Before that, he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and a prestigious NASA Chandra Fellow. Shane works on numerical simulations of accretion by black holes, star formation, and feedback, among other topics. The Sloan Fellowships were announced in a full page ad in the New York Times on Monday, February 23.

16 February 2015
Postdoctoral researcher Sabrina Stierwalt was recently named the new Everyday Einstein of She contributes weekly podcasts which you can follow through the Everyday Einstein website. Check out her recent article, "What is Dark Matter?"

01 February 2015
A late announcement: The Astronomy Department is welcoming two new faculty members this year. Shane Davis joined us in the Fall from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. He is interested in all things theory ranging from accretion flows to feedback from star formation. Professor Davis is currently teaching the graduate level high-energy astrophysics course. Rob Garrod is an astrochemist who will be working with both the astronomy and chemistry departments at UVa. He is currently in the process of joining us from Cornell University. Professor Garrod's research focuses on computational techniques studying the formation of complex organic molecules in space. Welcome!

21 January 2015
With both the UVA Department of Astronomy and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Charlottesville has one of the largest numbers of astronomers per capita in the world! An article published by the UVA School of Arts and Sciences highlights the world-class astronomical research occurring in Charlottesville. Check it out here!

20 January 2015
Undergraduate Catherine Zucker presented her research on Galactic "bones", thin dense clouds of gas in the Milky Way, at the January 2015 American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. Her research was recently spotlighted in this article, check it out!

7 January 2015
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) recently released one of the largest databases in the history of astronomy, SDSS-III. Included in the data release was the data from APOGEE, the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment, a survey led by UVA Professor Steve Majewski using a high-resolution, infrared spectrograph built at UVA by a team led by UVA Senior Scientist John Wilson. Check out the full announcement on the SDSS website or this UVAToday article.

5 November 2014
Postdoctoral Research Associate Sabrina Stierwalt has been awarded the L'Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowship in recognition of her exceptional intellectual merit, potential for scientific advancement, and commitment to supporting women and girls in science. The grant will allow her to continue her work here at UVa on interacting dwarf galaxies with Professor Kelsey Johnson. Five fellows were chosen from over 650 applicants across all science disciplines, and Stierwalt is the first astronomer to be selected in the program's 11 year history! For more info, check out this article in PR News or this UVAToday article.

15 October 2014
Research Associate Professor Anne Verbiscer is working with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) discovery team to plan the next stop for the New Horizons spacecraft after it passes by Pluto. Professor Verbiscer helped search HST images (by eye) for a KBO to explore as New Horizons moves through the outermost parts of the Solar System. The target found by Professor Verbiscer and the rest of the team is designated "PT1" for "Potential Target 1." PT1 is probably about 30 to 45 kilometers in diameter at a distance of 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun! The picture below shows Professor Verbiscer (second from right) with other team members: Marc Buie, Alex Parker, John Spencer, Cathy Olkin, and Simon Porter. For more information, check out this HST Press Release or this article by Emilky Lakdawalla.

03 October 2014
Associate Dean and Professor John Hawley has been awarded the UVA Distinguished Scientist Award by the Vice President for Research. The award cites John's work on computational astrophysics and accretion, and his discovery of the magneto-rotational instability with Steve Balbus. He is also cited for his teaching and service to the university.

17 September 2014
Associate Dean and Professor John Hawley has been appointed as the John Downman Hamilton Professor of Astronomy, a chair previously occupied by Professor Emeritus Larry Fredrick and Professor Emeritus Bob O'Connell.

24 August 2014
Graduate students Kim Sokal and Sandy Liss were published in the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Mercury Magazine with their article describing the triumphs of our very own Dark Skies, Bright Kids!

12 July 2014
The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center recently released the new naming designations for several asteroids. Among the new designations are asteroids named (9727) Skrutskie, named after UVa Astronomy Professor Mike Skrutskie, (9726) Verbiscer, named after UVa Astronomy Research Associate Professor Anne Verbiscer, and (152985) Kenkellermann, named after NRAO Scientist and UVa Astronomy Visiting Faculty member Ken Kellermann.

17 June 2014
Postdoctoral Associate Tobias Fritz, along with department collaborators Nitya Kallivayalil, Steve Majewski, Rachael Beaton, and Guillermo Damke, has been awarded a Long and Large Program on the Gemini South telescope. They will be using adaptive optics techniques to measure the motions of a large sample of stars in the halo of the Milky Way.

23 May 2014
Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt was awarded the Jefferson Cup for her presentation, "Disturbed Gas and Enhanced Star Formation in Interacting Dwarf Galaxies," at the 2014 UVa Postoctoral Research Day Symposium.

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