Colloquium: Ben Weiner
Oct 9 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Ben Weiner @ BX102

Searching for Dwarf Satellites around Milky Way – Analog Galaxies with the SAGA survey

Ben Weiner, Steward Observatory

Dwarf satellites of massive galaxies are a probe of many issues in galaxy evolution and cosmology, including the nature of low-mass galaxies, star formation at early times, accretion into halos, and the abundance of low-mass dark matter halos. Much attention has been devoted to the number and nature of Milky Way and M31 dwarf satellites, especially the “missing satellites problem.” However, we know very little about dwarf satellites outside the Local Group below the mass of the LMC, and we don’t know if the MW and M31 satellite systems are typical. The SAGA (Satellites Around Galactic Analogs) survey collaboration aims to address this with both observational and theoretical studies of satellite abundances and properties around Milky Way analog central galaxies. I will present results from our MMT/Hectospec wide field spectroscopic surveys for satellites. We have surveyed the fields of several nearby galaxies that are similar to the Milky Way to detect and spectroscopically confirm dwarf satellites.  We find a range of numbers of satellites, suggesting that there is a significant variance in halo histories.  We also find that not all dwarf systems resemble the Milky Way and M31 systems. I will discuss these results and some of the implications on the life cycle of satellites that we can infer from satellite abundances and properties, including their images and spectra.


Colloquium: Doug Biesecker
Oct 16 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Doug Biesecker @ BX102

Why Space Weather Matters and How Forecasting Will Improve in the DSCOVR Era

Doug Biesecker, NOAA/NWS/Space Weather Prediction Center

Space Weather is a growing enterprise, with growing recognition of its importance inside and outside government.  The largest concern is with the electric power grid, but impacts to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are also significant.  Other areas of impact include satellites and human space flight, and high frequency communication for aviation, mariners, and emergency responders, among many.  The NOAA National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is the nation’s official source of space weather watches, warnings and alerts.  SWPC does this with a 24×7 staffed operation that monitors the Sun, solar wind, and geospace environment taking advantage of a broad suite of observations and models to provide the best forecasts possible.  In conjunction with the growing recognition of space weather, NOAA launched its first mission, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), out of the Earth’s orbit to an orbit about the L1 Lagrange point.  This is also NOAA’s first satellite mission where space weather is the primary mission and DSCOVR marks the first of what is expected to be a long series of space weather monitoring satellites.  NOAA is also bringing numerical space weather models into the mix of models running on the nation’s supercomputers.  Numerical space weather models have demonstrated the ability to improve the onset time of space weather storms and will, for the first time, allow regional geomagnetic forecasting.  Instead of describing conditions on Earth with a single number, customers will have forecasts tailored to their location.


Colloquium: John Wisniewski
Nov 6 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  John Wisniewski @ BX102

Diagnosing the SEEDS of Planet Formation

John Wisniewski, University of Oklahoma

Circumstellar disks provide a useful astrophysical diagnostic of the formation and early evolution of exoplanets. It is commonly believed that young protoplanetary disks serve as the birthplace of planets, while older debris disks can provide insight into the architecture of exoplanetary systems. In this talk, I will discuss how one can use high contrast imaging techniques to spatially resolve nearby circumstellar disk systems, and how this imagery can be used to search for evidence of recently formed planetary bodies. I will focus on results from the Strategic Exploration of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS) project, as well as some ongoing follow-up work.

Colloquium: Brian Jackson
Dec 4 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Brian Jackson @ BX102

On the Edge: Exoplanets with Orbital Periods Shorter Than a Peter Jackson Movie

Brian Jackson, Boise State Univeristy

From wispy gas giants to tiny rocky bodies, exoplanets with orbital periods of several days and less challenge theories of planet formation and evolution. Recent searches have found small rocky planets with orbits reaching almost down to their host stars’ surfaces, including an iron-rich Mars-sized body with an orbital period of only four hours. So close to their host stars that some of them are actively disintegrating, these objects’ origins remain unclear, and even formation models that allow significant migration have trouble accounting for their very short periods. Some are members of multi-planet system and may have been driven inward via secular excitation and tidal damping by their sibling planets. Others may be the fossil cores of former gas giants whose atmospheres were stripped by tides.

In this presentation, I’ll discuss the work of our Short-Period Planets Group (SuPerPiG), focused on finding and understanding this surprising new class of exoplanets. We are sifting data from the reincarnated Kepler Mission, K2, to search for additional short-period planets and have found several new candidates. We are also modeling the tidal decay and disruption of close-in gaseous planets to determine how we could identify their remnants, and preliminary results suggest the cores have a distinctive mass-period relationship that may be apparent in the observed population. Whatever their origins, short-period planets are particularly amenable to discovery and detailed follow-up by ongoing and future surveys, including the TESS mission.

Colloquium: Lauren Woolsey
Feb 12 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Lauren Woolsey @ BX102

Magnetic Influences on Coronal Heating and the Solar Wind

Lauren Woolsey, Harvard University



The physical mechanism(s) that generate and accelerate the solar wind have not been conclusively determined after decades of study, though not for lack of possibilities. The long list of proposed processes can be grouped into two main paradigms: 1) models that require the rearranging of magnetic topology through magnetic reconnection in order to release energy and accelerate the wind and 2) models that require the launching of magnetoacoustic and Alfvén waves to propagate along the magnetic field and generate turbulence to heat the corona and accelerate the emanating wind. After a short overview of these paradigms, I will present my ongoing dissertation work that seeks to investigate the latter category of theoretical models and the role that different magnetic field profiles play in the resulting solar wind properties with Alfvén-wave-driven turbulent heating. I will describe the computer modeling in 1D and 3D that I have done of bundles of magnetic field (flux tubes) that are open to the heliosphere, and what our results can tell us about the influences of magnetic field on the solar wind in these flux tubes, including the latest time-dependent modeling that produces bursty, nanoflare-like heating. Additionally, I will present the latest results of our study of chromospheric network jets and the magnetic thresholds we are finding in magnetogram data.

Pizza Lunch: Laura Mayorga
Oct 10 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Laura Mayorga @ AY 119

Title: Proto-BD disks and the Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics

Laura Mayorga


Colloquium: Bart De Pontieu
Mar 3 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Bart De Pontieu @ BX 102

Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph Views of How the Solar Atmosphere is Energized

Dr. Bart De Pontieu, Lockheed Martin

At the interface between the Sun’s surface and million-degree outer atmosphere or corona lies the chromosphere. At 10,000K it is much cooler than the corona, but also many orders of magnitude denser. The chromosphere processes all magneto-convective energy that drives the heating of the million-degree outer atmosphere or corona, and requires a heating rate that is at least as large as that required for the corona. Yet many questions remain about what drives the chromospheric dynamics and energetics and how these are connected to the transition region and corona.

The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is a NASA small explorer satellite that was launched in 2013 to study these questions. I will review recent results from IRIS in which observations and models are compared to study the onset of fast magnetic reconnection in the solar atmosphere, the generation of violent jets and how they feed plasma into the hot corona, and the role of nanoflares in heating the corona.

Colloquium: Hazel Bain
Mar 10 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Hazel Bain @ BX 102

Antarctic high altitude balloon observations of solar flares: Life and work on the ice

Dr. Hazel Bain, University of California, Berkeley


The Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for solar flares (GRIPS) instrument is a balloon-borne telescope designed to study particle acceleration in solar flares. The process through which stored magnetic energy is released and particles are accelerated to high energies in solar flares is not well understood. Hard x-rays and gamma-rays are direct signatures of these accelerated particles and can be used as a proxy to investigate particle acceleration mechanisms in these explosive events.

In the austral summer of 2016, GRIPS began its inaugural flight from NASA’s Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility just outside McMurdo, Antarctica. During the 12 day flight, the balloon was carried around the Antarctic continent by the seasonal stratospheric polar vortex. At the end of the 2016 season, the data vaults were recovered however due to the lateness of the season a full recovery was scheduled for the following year.

In this talk I will discuss the GRIPS instrument design and science goals, the process of testing and integration leading up to a balloon launch, the inaugural flight and subsequent instrument recovery this year from the GRIPS landing site out in Antarctica’s “flat white”. I’ll also talk a little bit about life and work on the ice.

Pizza Lunch: Laurel Farris
Apr 24 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Laurel Farris @ AY 119

Determining the size of coronal bright points using cross-correlation methods

Laurel Farris


Colloquium PhD Defense: Laura Mayorga
Jun 27 @ 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Laura Mayorga @ Domenici Hall 102

The Orbital and Planetary Phase Variations of Jupiter-Sized Planets: Characterizing Present and Future Giants

Laura Mayorga, NMSU

It is commonly said that exoplanet science is 100 years behind planetary science. While we may be able to travel to an exoplanet in the future, inferring the properties of exoplanets currently relies on extracting as much information as possible from a limited dataset. In order to further our ability to characterize, classify, and understand exoplanets as both a population and as individuals, this thesis makes use of multiple types of observations and simulations.

Firstly, direct-imaging is a technique long used in planetary science and is only now becoming feasible for exoplanet characterization. We present our results from analyzing Jupiter’s phase curve with Cassini/ISS to instruct the community in the complexity of exoplanet atmospheres and the need for further model development. The planet yields from future missions may be overestimated by today’s models. We also discuss the need for optimal bandpasses to best differentiate between planet classes.

Secondly, photometric surveys are still the best way of conducting population surveys of exoplanets. In particular, the Kepler dataset remains one of the highest precision photometric datasets and many planetary candidates remain to be characterized. We present techniques by which more information, such as a planet’s mass, can be extracted from a transit light curve without expensive ground- or space-based follow-up observations.

Finally, radial-velocity observations have revealed that many of the larger “planets” may actually be brown dwarfs. To understand the distinction between a brown dwarf and an exoplanet or a star, we have developed a simple, semi-analytic viscous disk model to study brown dwarf evolutionary history. We present the rudimentary framework and discuss its performance compared to more detailed numerical simulations as well as how additional physics and development can determine the potential observational characteristics that will differentiate between various formation scenarios.

Exoplanet science has already uncovered a plethora of previously unconsidered phenomenon. To increase our understanding of our own planet, as well as the other various possible end cases, will require a closer inspection of our own solar system, the nuanced details of exoplanet data, refined simulations, and laboratory astrophysics.