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UVa Astronomy graduate student Nicole Gugliucci is featured on the June 7th podcast from 365 Days of Astronomy. Listen in as astronomers from the UVa bring the wonders of the universe to local elementary schools through the "Dark Skies, Bright Kids" (DSBK) program. DSBK was started by UVa astronomer Kelsey Johnson in the fall of 2009. With a band of volunteer grad students, post docs, and undergraduates, DSBK has been visiting local elementary schools to bring astronomy to the classroom in a fun way and get the students out under the very dark skies of Albemarle County to experience the universe for themselves.
Graduating fourth year Ian Czekala was featured in UVa Today for his thesis with UVa astronomer Kelsey Johnson, which merged astronomy and engineering. With the support of Harrison Undergraduate Research Award, Ian was able to visit the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) site under construction at 16,500 feet in Chile. The North American Science Center for ALMA is located on the UVa Grounds.
UVa Astronomer Anne Verbiscer will speak in Richmond at the Science Museum of Virginia during National Astronomy Day on April 24th. Verbiscer will talk about the current exhibit "Spectacular Saturn" which runs from April 1st through July 5th, and was sponsored by a supplement to a NASA grant issued to UVa Astronomers Anne Verbiscer and Ed Murphy.
In this image from the exhibit, Saturn"s largest moon Titan and three smaller moons huddle near the planet"s multi-hued disk in this image captured by the Cassini spacecraft (a joint NASA/European Space Agency mission). Shadows of the main rings are cast onto Saturn"s northern hemisphere. Of the four moons, only Titan is visible in this thumbnail image. View the larger version of the image to see all four of the ones, including Janus, Mimas and Prometheus, as well as much more detail in the atmosphere of Saturn and the shadows of the rings.
On February 10, 2010 at 8:00 am, a snowfall of 3.8 inches was recorded at the McCormick Observatory weather station. This brought the seasonal total to 55.0 inches for this station, and broke the previous record of 54.7 inches set during the winter of 1995-96. Accumulation from two storms this winter rank them in the top ten overall since 1894 at McCormick Observatory, and there have been three events with more than ten inches of accumulation each. Snowfall varies widely from year to year in Virginia, but seasonal snowfall is typically around 18 inches for this station.
McCormick Observatory, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this April 13th, has served as the weather station of record for the Charlottesville area since before 1894, as a National Weather Service Cooperative Observing Station as well as a member of the United States Historical Climatology Network. Members of the Astronomy Department have carried out these measurements for more than a century.
UVa Astronomer Steven Majewski and colleagues have used observations of the Milky Way Galaxy’s interaction with a disintegrating dwarf galaxy to model the shape of the dark matter halo of the Milky Way. The Sagittarius dwarf galaxy is being shredded by the tidal force of the Milky Way, and the remnants of the dwarf galaxy are now distributed across much of the sky. It is possible to infer the orbital motion of these fragments, and this allowed Majewski and colleagues to measure the size and shape of the halo of our own galaxy. A Milky Way with a halo of a different size and shape would affect the "tidal debris" from Sagittarius in a different way, causing the orbit to change. Therefore, sufficiently sensitive observations of the motions of this tidal debris allow strict limits to be placed on the actual size and shape of the halo of the Milky Way. Because the tidal debris is reacting to the entire mass of the Milky Way, most of which is in the form of Dark Matter, Majewski and collaborators were able to determine the shape of the dark and luminous matter halo of the Milky Way.
The work was carried out with collaborators David Law (UCLA) and Kathryn Johnston (Columbia), and was presented at the January meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
UVa Astronomer Roger Chevalier graduate student Ori Fox, former UVa Postdoc Poonam Chandra, along with an international team of astronomers led by Alicia Soderberg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, used the Very Large Array radio telescope to identify a rare type of supernova.
Their results were published in the journal Nature on January 28th. The supernova, SN2009bb, appears to be of a type previously only discovered through the presence of extremely energetic gamma rays. In the caseof SN2099bb, the presence of very low energy radio waves (detected at the Very Large Array) were used to infer the presence of vast amounts of energy, similar to that seen in the gamma-ray blasts. These observations suggest the presence of a "central engine" (either a black hole or neutron star) which accelerates the material up to speeds approaching the speed of light.
UVa Astronomy Research Associate David Nidever
and Professor Steven Majewski,
along with their colleagues Butler Burton (NRAO) and Lou Nigra
(U. Wisconsin), used the Green
Bank Telescope to show that a giant intergalactic gas
stream is longer and older than previously thought.
The Magellanic Stream flows from the Milky Way’s two largest satellite galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, and
stretches over 200 degrees across the sky.
The astronomers presented their findings to the American Astronomical Society’s
meeting in Washington, DC and submitted their work for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
At the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, University of Virginia undergraduate student Ian Czekala won a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award. The awards are given to recognize exemplary student research, and are judged by astronomers who visited Ian’s poster and heard his presentation. Ian’s poster was titled "Truncated Disks in TW Hya Association Multiple Star Systems", and represents work he did through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics with Dr. Sean Andrews.
Astronomy Associate Professor Aaron Evans is working with Howard University to expand the astronomy program at this Historically Black University in Washington, D.C.
Evans, who holds a joint appointment at UVa and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), works with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a billion dollar project currently under construction in the Atacama desert of Chile. In addition to using ALMA to study star formation in distant galaxies, Evans also hopes to continue to work to help more African Americans enter the field of Astronomy.
University of Virginia Astronomy Administrative Supervisor Barbara Johnson has been honored by the Equal Opportunity Programs Office at UVa as an "EOP Champion". The awards recognize 17 UVa community members who have taken it upon themselves or excelled in making the workplace a more welcoming or comfortable climate for all to succeed.
According to the nomination: "Barbara cultivates a supportive, productive office environment that allows her employee, an individual with multiple, invisible disabilities, to succeed. She treats her as a valuable human being while holding her to the same high standards she would expect of any other employee."
Astronomy Research Professor Anne Verbiscer, will be featured in the November 2nd podcast from 365 Days of Astronomy, the daily podcast of the International Year of Astronomy. Anne will discuss "Cassini’s Deepest Plume Passage: The ‘E&’ Flyby of Enceladus". On November 2nd, Cassini will pass a mere 100 kilometers abover the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. It is hoped that the spacecraft will pass through the plumes from the ice fountains, allowing it to sample the particles and determine their composition. Anne is an associate member of the Cassini team, and studies the icy bodies of the outer Solar System.
University of Virginia Astronomy Professor Kelsey Johnson has started an astronomy club called "Dark Skies, Bright Kids" at a local elementary school. The after-school program at Red Hill Elementary School designed to expose rural elementary school students to the science behind Albemarle County’s unpolluted and clear dark nighttime skies.
One of Johnson’s motives in implementing the club at Red Hill was the rural school’s high percentage of low-income families. She noted that 50 percent of elementary school students in southern Albemarle County qualify for free or reduced lunch, an indicator of the area’s socioeconomic status. According to Johnson, the NSF grant-backed club will boost the "science education of the ‘rural poor.’"
UVa Astronomy’s Anne Verbiscer and Mike Skrutskie, along with their colleague Douglas Hamilton (U. Maryland) have used the Spitzer Space Telescope to discover the largest planetary ring in the Solar System. The ring, which orbits the planet Saturn, is 13 million kilometers in radius, or about 200 times the radius of the giant planet itself. Verbiscer, Skrutskie and Hamilton have also shown how repeated impacts on Saturn’s moon Phobe can keep the ring supplied with dust. The ring may also be the cause of the two tone coloration on the surface of another Saturnian moon, Iapetus.
Their results are presented in this week’s Nature. More details can also be seen on our Picture of the Month page.
University of Virginia Astronomy Professor Trinh Thuan has been awarded the 2009 UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science and the UNESCO Albert Einstein Silver Medal. Thuan will share the prize with Yash Pal of India. He will receive the prize at a ceremony during the World Science Forum in Budapest on 5 November 2009. Thuan has a well-established reputation as a writer of popular texts on cosmology, science, and philosophical/religious issues related to science, particularly within the Francophone world.
The Kalinga Prize was created by UNESCO in 1952 following a donation from Biju Patnaik, Founder and President of the Kalinga Foundation Trust in India. "The purpose of the Prize is to reward the efforts of a person who has had a distinguished career as a writer, editor, lecturer, radio/television program director or film producer, which has enabled him/her to help to interpret sciecne, research and technology to the public."
Some past winners of the prize include George Gamow, Bertrand Russell, Arthur C. Clarke, Fred Hoyle, Kondrad Lorenz, Margaret Mead, Nigel Calder, David Attenborough and Peter Medawar.
Astronomy Postdoc Greg Sivakoff has received a 2009 UVa Outstanding Postdoc Award. This is one of four being awarded this year, and the only one to a postdoc in the College of Arts & Sciences. He will receive the award on September 24th as UVa celebrates the first annual National Postdoc Appreciation Day. Greg earned his Ph.D. at UVa in 2006, studying with Craig Sarazin. After a postdoc at Ohio State University, he has returned to UVa to study low-mass X-ray binaries using the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
University of Virginia Astronomy Professor Roger Chevalier, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the W. H. Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy at UVa, is to have his career celebrated upon the occassion of his 60th birthday this year. A "Festival of Cosmic Explosions" will be held at Caltech August 21-23. Roger is one of the leading researchers in the field of supernovae and supernovae remnants. The workshop will feature recent work in these areas, and include many colleagues and former students of Roger.
Astronomy Research Scientist Anne Verbiscer, is featured in the Planetary Society Blog for the week of July 6th. In her first entry, Anne discusses this week’s Lunar Penumbral Eclipse, focusing on what this would look like from the Moon. Follow along as she blogs for the rest of the week.
Astronomy Graduate Student Nicole Gugliucci, is featured in the April 2nd podcast from 365 Days of Astronomy, the daily podcast of the International Year of Astronomy. Nicole discusses her work on with PAPER (Precision Array to Probe the Epoch of Reionization), an experiment that will allow astronomers to look back to the era of Reionization, when the first stars and galaxies "turned on". You can read more on Nicole’s blog
Ian Czekala, an aerospace engineering and astronomy major working with Robert Johnson and Kelsey Johnson has received a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award which will allow him to carry out independent research over the summer on ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. His project is entitled "Collaborative Engineering on a Universal Scale: The Atacama Large Millimeter Array." The North American ALMA Science Center is located in Charlottesville at the headquarters of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Astronomy Graduate Students Jeff Carlin, Geneviève de Messières and George Trammell recently participated in the Ninth Annual Huskey Graduate Research Exhibition at UVa. Trammell received a first place award for his oral presentation ("Revelaing the Origins of Young Star Outflows and the Upper Armospheres of Extrasolar Planets") and Carlin received a second place award for his oral presentation ("Constraining Fundamental Milky Way Parameters with Stellar Kinematics of Sagittarius Tidal Debris").
The University of Virginia has joined the SDSS-III consortium. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has been one of the most influential and ambitious surveys in the history of astronomy, and is now entering a third phase wherein the focus will be divided between four major surveys. One of these surveys, APOGEE, is being led here at UVa, by P.I. Steven Majewski and Instrument Scientist Professor Michael Skrutskie.
Professor Mark Whittle has created a course of 36 half-hour lectures on Cosmology which has been released by the Teaching Company. The course moves through eight themes: Cosmic Overview; Geometry and Expansion History; The First Million Years; The Growth of Cosmic Structures; The Origin of the Elements; The First Second; Inflation; Returning Home. The level of the course is aimed at the general public and contains over 1700 images, graphs and animations.
The Virginia Film Festival held a special film series at McCormick Observatory, kicking off the "Aliens" themed festival with a 70th anniversary rebroadcast of the Orson Wells "War of the Worlds" radio program in the Dome Room of the Observatory. On Oct 31st, 1930, the night after the original broadcast, McCormick Observatory was opened to the public to allow students and Charlottesville residents to see that there was no alien activity on Mars.
The Observatory was open to the public for every night of the Festival from 7-10pm, hosting a series of films in the specially-created "McCormick Observatory Microcinema." The series featured three programs of experimental and independent films about space curated by luminaries of the avant-garde film world including Craig Baldwin, Jeanne Liotta and Ed Halter.
In addition, legendary underground filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar presented four of their most hyperbolic alien invasion spectacles, Blips, Ascension of the Demonoids, Death Quest of the Ju-Ju Cults, and Secrets of the Shadow World.
Graduate Student Rachael Beaton was recently invited to be a guest blogger on the David Chandler‘s Next Generation blog on Discovery Channel‘s Discovery Space website. You can read her blog entry about observing from a graduate student perspective.
Phil Arras has won a Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST) Distinguished Young Investigator Award from UVa’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies for his proposal "Physics of Hot Jupiters".
Triplespec, an R~3500 NIR spectrograph with simultaneous wavelength coverage between 0.9-2.4 microns, was recently completed by the Astronomy Department’s Virginia Astronomical Instrumentation Laboratory and the Department Shops. Three copies of Triplespec were built, the other two by Cornell/JPL and Caltech, for Palomar and Keck Observatories. Triplespec on the Apache Point Observatory 3.5-m saw first light on the evening of March 19, 2008, and one of the first targets was Saturn. The image in the top left corner shows the placement of the spectrograph slit on Saturn and the rings, while the larger image shows the resulting infrared spectrum of both the rings and the atmosphere of Saturn.
Astronomy Graduate Students Geneviève de Messières, Joleen Miller and Gail Zasowski recently participated in the Eighth Annual Huskey Graduate Research Exhibition at UVa, and all three were among the top prize winners in the Physical Sciences and Mathematics category. Miller and Zasowski received the two first place awards for their oral presentations ("Our Dusty Galaxy: Mapping the Dust Structure of the Milky Way" by Zasowksi and "Red Giant Rapid Rotators: Mild Mannered Stars or Secret Planet Eaters?" by Miller). Among the posters in the Physical Sciences and Mathematics, de Messières was awarded fourth prize for her poster on "Spitzer Mid-Infrared Spectra of Selected Galaxy Cluster Cooling Flows" (work for which she was also awarded a prize at the AAS in January).
The Large Binocular Telescope has successfully achieved first “binocular” light. UVa is a partner in the LBT, which has two 8.4-meter mirrors that combine to give the light gathering power of a single 11.8-meter mirror, making the LBT the largest single telescope in the world. Eventually, the two separate mirrors will work to combine the light interferometrically, and the LBT will have the resolution of a telescope equivalent to a 22.8-meter mirror (far exceeding that of the Hubble Space Telescope).
This image of NGC 2770 (by Vincenzo Testa of Rome Observatory) was made by combining images taken in three different filters. The total observation time was about 12 minutes.
Phil Arras has been named a Sloan Fellow for 2008 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. These awards are intended to enhance the careers of the very best young faculty members in chemistry, biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics in the US and Canada. Phil is the only Sloan Fellow named at UVa this year, and is one of only 23 named in physics in the US and Canada.
Greg Black, working with scientists at NASA/JPL and Arecibo Observatory, has obtained radar images of Asteroid 2007 TU24 on January 29th as the 250 meter diameter asteroid passed within half a million kilometers of the Earth (about 1.4 times as far as the Moon is from the Earth). Using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, they sent a radar pulse which then bounced off of the asteroid and was detected by NRAO’ Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.
Geneviève de Messières won a Chambliss Astronomy
Achievement Student Award at the January 2008 meeting of the American
Astronomical Society in Austin, TX for her research poster on Spitzer
Space Telescope observations of galaxy cluster cooling flows. At right is a Chandra X-ray image of the cooling flow cluster Abell 1835, one of 8 cooling flow clusters she investigated in the Infrared with the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Graduate and undergraduate students in Steven Majewski’s
Astronomical Techniques class spent 10 days in November visiting
telescope facilities in New Mexico and Arizona. These included facilities
to which UVa astronomers have direct access: the Apache Point Observatory, the Large Binocular
Telescope, the Vatican
Advanced Technology Telescope, and the 10-m Submillimeter Telescope. The
students also visited the Kitt Peak
National Observatory, the Very
Large Array of the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory, and the Steward Observatory Mirror
Lab, which made the mirrors for many of the optical telescopes
trip included three nights of observing student projects on the APO
3.5-m telescope (shown at left).
Amy Reines won second place in the Third
NRAO/AUI Radio Astronomy Image Contest. Her
image of the local starburst galaxy NGC 4449 combines radio imaging
from NRAO’s Very Large Array and optical imaging from NASA’s
Hubble Space Telescope. Newborn super star clusters are seen in the
radio image (blue). These massive clusters contains tens to hundreds of
thousands of stars; the young stars in these clusters produce hot
ionized gas which is detectable at radio wavelengths. The Hubble image
(in yellow) shows the distribution of the visible starlight.
Kelsey Johnson was one of twenty fellows selected this year for the prestigious David & Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship for Science and Engineering. The term of the fellowship is 5 years. Kelsey joins Steve Majewski to become the second Packard Fellow in the Astronomy Department.
The French Academy has awarded its prestigious Gran Prix Moron to Trinh Thuan for his most recent book for a general readership, "The Ways of Light: Physics and Metaphysics of Light and Darkness" (in French).
The academy’s Gran Prix Moron recognizes the distinguished philosophical work of an author involving a new ethic or esthetics. It is roughly equivalent to the American Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, and has over the years been presented to distinguished authors in French, including statesmen and scholars.
Astronomers have found that Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, is a
"cosmic graffiti artist," pelting the surfaces of at least 11 other moons of Saturn with ice particles sprayed from its spewing surface geysers. UVa Research Scientist Anne Verbiscer led the collaboration which made this discovery, using the Hubble Space Telescope, and reported in the Feb 9 issue of Science. The BBC, National Geographic, New Scientist, Spaceflight Now and Space.com have the story.
At the beginning of 2007 the University of Virginia joined the Astrophysical Research Consortium as a member institution. ARC operates the Apache Point Observatory. The Department’s Instrumentation Lab is currently constructing an Infrared spectrograph, TripleSpec, which will operate on the APO 3.5-m telescope.
The ARC Board of Governors has endorsed the UVa-led APOGEE (The Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment) as one of the four projects to be proposed for the SDSS III project on the Sloan 2.5-m telescope at Apache Point Observatory after completion of "Sloan II" operations in 2008. APOGEE will use a high-resolution, infrared multi-fiber spectrograph (to be built at UVa) for a detailed survey of the dynamics and chemistry of the Milky Way.
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Norfolk State University is building a 24-inch Robotic Telescope at Fan
Mountain Observatory, for monitoring the optical afterglow of Gamma-ray Bursts. UVa Research Scientist David McDavid is the liaison between NSU and UVa for this project. He is working to bring this telescope to first light, later this year.
Mike Skrutskie was awarded the James Craig Watson Medal by The National Academy of Sciences for his ’monumental work in developing and completing the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, thus enabling a thrilling variety of explorations in astronomy and astrophysics’.
UVa Astronomers Steve Majewski and Ricky Patterson, undergraduate (now graduate student) Rachael Beaton, and Ph.D. James Ostheimer, along with other colleagues have found an enormous halo of stars around the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), These findings suggest that Andromeda is as much as five times larger than astronomers had previously thought.
Kelsey Johnson won a NSF CAREER award for her proposal Probing the Birth of Super Star Clusters. The research is aimed at gaining a better understanding of star cluster formation, in particular the formation of so-called extragalactic “super star clusters”. The broader impact of the project is focused on K-12 science teacher development, as well as graduate student teacher training.
She has also won a Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST) Distinguished Young Investigator Award from UVa’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.