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: Steve Finkelstein (Host: Kristian Finlator)
Feb 5 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Steve Finkelstein   (Host: Kristian Finlator) @ BX102

Galaxy Evolution during the Epoch of Reionization

 Steve Finkelstein,  University of Texas at Austin


                       Abstract: The advent of the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope has heralded a new era in our ability to study the earliest phases of galaxy formation and evolution.  The number of candidates for galaxies now known at redshifts greater than six has grown to be in the thousands.  This allows us to move beyond mere counting of galaxies, to endeavor to understand the detailed physics regulating the growth of galaxies.  I will review the recent progress our group in Texas has made in this arena using the exquisite datasets from the CANDELS and Frontier Fields programs.  Specifically, our detailed new measurements of both the evolution of the stellar mass function and rest-frame UV luminosity function now allow us to probe the effect of feedback on low-mass galaxies, the star-formation efficiency in high-mass galaxies, and the contribution of galaxies to the reionization of the universe.  Our most recent result comes from the Frontier Fields, where we have used an advanced technique to remove the light from the cluster galaxies to uncover z > 6 galaxies as faint as M_UV=-13.  Our updated luminosity functions show no sign of a turnover down to these extremely faint levels, providing the first empirical test of reionization models which require such faint galaxies, and is in modest tension with simulations which predict a turnover at brighter levels.   I will also discuss our spectroscopic followup efforts, which have yielded two of the four highest redshift confirmed galaxies, and also provide further insight into reionization, by the scattering of Lyman alpha emission by neutral gas in the intergalactic medium.  I will conclude with a look ahead to the problems we can expect to tackle with ALMA, JWST, and even more future facilities.

Colloquium: Gail Zasowski (Host: Drew Chojnowski)
Mar 4 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Gail Zasowski  (Host: Drew Chojnowski) @ BX102

New Tools for Galactic Archaeology from the Milky Way

Gail Zasowski, John Hopkins University

One of the critical components for understanding galaxy evolution is understanding the Milky Way Galaxy itself — its detailed structure and chemodynamical properties, as well as fundamental stellar physics, which we can only study in great detail locally.  This field is currently undergoing a dramatic expansion towards the kinds of large-scale statistical analyses long used by the extragalactic and other communities, thanks in part to an enormous influx of data from space- and ground-based surveys.  I will describe the Milky Way and Local Group in the context of general galaxy evolution and highlight some recent developments in Galactic astrophysics that take advantage of these big data sets and analysis techniques.  In particular, I will focus on two diverse approaches: one to characterize the distribution and dynamics of the carbon-rich, dusty diffuse ISM, and one to map the resolved bulk stellar properties of the inner disk and bulge.  The rapid progress in these areas promises to continue, with the arrival of data sets from missions like SDSS, Gaia, LSST, and WFIRST.

Colloquium: Betsy Mills (Host: Moire Prescott)
Apr 29 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Betsy Mills (Host: Moire Prescott) @ BX102

Do star formation laws break in the center of the Galaxy?

Betsy Mills, University of Arizona

I will review our understanding of molecular gas conditions in the central 500 parsecs of the Milky Way, and summarize recent studies that find that the Galactic center deviates from universal star formation relations. It is suggested that the amount of star formation in the Galactic center is less than expected, given the quantity of dense gas in this region. However, in order to conclude that the Galactic center truly breaks these ‘laws’ of star formation, two possibilities must be ruled out: that our indicators in this region could underestimate the amount of star formation, and that prior observations could have overestimated the amount of dense gas. I will analyze new evidence for ongoing star formation in the Galactic center and present new measurements of the gas densities in the Galactic center that show it to be less dense than originally thought. However, I will ultimately argue that the average density of the gas is less relevant to explaining the dearth of star formation than the fraction of gas at each density.