Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Laura Mayorga
Aug 28 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Laura Mayorga @ BX102

Probing Exoplanet Atmospheric Properties from Phase Variations and Polarization

Laura Mayorga, NMSU

The study of exoplanets is evolving past simple transit and Doppler method discovery and characterization. One of the many goals of the upcoming mission WFIRST-AFTA is to directly image giant exoplanets with a coronagraph. We undertake a study to determine the types of exoplanets that missions such as WFIRST will encounter and what instruments these missions require to best characterize giant planet atmospheres. We will first complete a benchmark study of how Jupiter reflects and scatters light as a function of phase angle. We will use Cassini flyby data from late 2000 to measure Jupiter’s phase curve, spherical albedo, and degree of polarization. Using Jupiter as a comparison, we will then study a sample of exoplanet atmosphere models generated to explore the atmospheric parameter space of giant planets and estimate what WFIRST might observe. Our study will provide valuable refinements to Jupiter-like models of planet evolution and atmospheric composition. We will also help inform future missions of what instruments are needed to characterize similar planets and what science goals will further our knowledge of giant worlds in our universe.

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: Karen Olsen
Nov 18 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Karen Olsen @ Biology Annex 102

Simulations of the interstellar medium at high redshift: What does [CII] trace?

Dr. Karen Olsen, Arizona State University

We are in an exciting era were simulations on large, cosmological scales meet modeling of the interstellar medium (ISM) on sub-parsec scales. This gives us a way to predict and interpret observations of the ISM, and in particular the star-forming gas, in high-redshift galaxies, useful for ongoing and future ALMA/VLA projects.

In this talk, I will walk you though the current state of simulations targeting the the fine structure line of [CII] at 158 microns, which has now been observed in several z>6 galaxies. [CII] can arise throughout the interstellar medium (ISM), but the brightness of the [CII] line depends strongly on local environment within a galaxy, meaning that the ISM phase dominating the [CII] emission can depend on galaxy type. This complicates the use of [CII] as a tracer of either SFR or ISM mass and calls for detailed modeling following the different ways in which [CII] can be excited.

I will present SÍGAME (Simulator of GAlaxy Millimeter/submillimeter emission) – a novel method for predicting the origin and strength of line emission from galaxies. Our method combines data from cosmological simulations with sub-grid physics that carefully calculates local radiation field strength, pressure, and ionizational/thermal balance. Preliminary results will be shown from recent modeling of [CII] emission from z~6 star-forming galaxies with SÍGAME. We find strong potential for using the total [CII] luminosity to derive the ISM and molecular gas mass of galaxies during the Epoch of Reionization (EoR).


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.

Colloquium: Travis Metcalfe (Host: Jason Jackiewicz)
Sep 8 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Travis Metcalfe (Host: Jason Jackiewicz) @ BX102

The Magnetic Mid-life Crisis of the Sun

Dr. Travis Metcalfe, Space Sciences Institute

After decades of effort, the solar activity cycle is exceptionally well characterized but it remains poorly understood. Pioneering work at the Mount Wilson Observatory demonstrated that other sun-like stars also show regular activity cycles, and suggested two possible relationships between the rotation rate and the length of the cycle. Neither of these relationships correctly describe the properties of the Sun, a peculiarity that demands explanation. Recent discoveries have started to shed light on this issue, suggesting that the Sun’s rotation rate and magnetic field are currently in a transitional phase that occurs in all middle-aged stars. We have recently identified the manifestation of this magnetic transition in the best available data on stellar cycles. The results suggest that the solar cycle may be growing longer on stellar evolutionary timescales, and that the cycle might disappear sometime in the next 0.8-2.4 Gyr. Future tests of this hypothesis will come from ground-based activity monitoring of Kepler targets that span the magnetic transition, and from asteroseismology with the TESS mission to determine precise masses and ages for bright stars with known cycles.