Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover)
Sep 12 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover) @ Domenici Hall Room 102

The Chemical Composition and Dynamics of Titan’s Atmosphere as Revealed by ALMA

Alexander Thelen, NMSU

Over the last century, remarkable advances in our understanding of Titan’s atmosphere have been accomplished by a campaign of ground- and space-based observations revealing a wealth of complex, organic species in the moon’s upper atmosphere. Many of Titan’s atmospheric constituents produced through the photochemistry and ionospheric interactions of N2 and CH4 exhibit significant variations with latitude and time, particularly towards the poles and within the winter circumpolar vortex. The measurement of spatial and temporal variations in Titan’s atmosphere enables us to elucidate connections between its dynamics, photochemistry, and the influence of seasonal changes. At the end of the Cassini mission in 2017, we can employ the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) for future observations of Titan’s atmosphere. Here we detail the analysis of numerous short integration (~3 minute) ALMA observations from 2012 to 2015 to investigate Titan’s stratospheric composition, temporal variations, and search for new molecular species. Using the Non-linear optimal Estimator for MultivariatE spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) radiative transfer code, we retrieved vertical profiles of temperature and abundance in Titan’s lower stratosphere through mesosphere (~50–550 km) from three spatially independent regions. We modeled CO emission lines to obtain temperature measurements, and retrieved abundance profiles for HCN, HC3N, C3H4, and CH3CN. The combination of integrated flux maps and vertical atmospheric profiles from spatially resolved observations allowed us to study the circulation of Titan’s middle atmosphere during northern spring. We observed increased temperatures in Titan’s stratopause at high northern latitudes and a persistent northern enrichment of HCN, C3H4, and CH3CN during this epoch; however, increased abundances of all molecules in the southern mesosphere, particularly HCN, and spatial maps of HC3N also show evidence for subsidence at the south pole. We validated these measurements through direct comparisons with contemporaneous Cassini data, previous ground-based observations, and photochemical model results. While no new trace species were detected, ALMA has proven to be a highly capable asset to enhance the data from the final few years of the Cassini mission, and for the continued study of Titan’s atmospheric dynamics, composition, and chemistry into Titan’s northern summer.

Observatory Open House
Sep 14 @ 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Observatory Open House @ Tombaugh Observatory

Host: Chris Churchill. Assisted by Trevor Picard, Lauren Kahre, and Ali Hyder

Colloquium: Dave Thilker (Host: Rene Walterbos)
Sep 21 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Dave Thilker (Host: Rene Walterbos) @ BX102

Fresh Perspectives on Star Formation from LEGUS, the Legacy ExtraGalactic Ultraviolet Survey

David Thilker, Johns Hopkins University

The Legacy ExtraGalactic Ultraviolet Survey (LEGUS) was a Cycle 21 Large Treasury HST program which obtained ~parsec resolution NUV- to I-band WFC3 imaging for 50 nearby, representative star-forming Local Volume galaxies, with a primary goal of linking the scales of star formation from the limit of individual stars, to clusters and associations, eventually up through the hierarchy to giant star forming complexes and galaxy-scale morphological features.

I will review the basics of the survey, public data products and science team results pertaining to clusters and the field star hierarchy.  I will then describe work to optimize photometric selection methods for massive main sequence O star candidates and LBV candidates, in the former case establishing a means to statistically constrain the fraction of O stars in very isolated locales.  I will introduce new ideas on how to quantify the complex spatio-temporal nature of hierarchical star formation using multi-scale clustering methods. The first steps of this work have yielded a landmark OB association database for 36 LEGUS target fields (in 28 of the nearest available galaxies), with tracer stellar populations selected and interpreted uniformly.  I will finish with discussion of a pilot HST program to demonstrate remarkably increased survey efficiency of WFC3 UV imaging enabled by use of extra-wide (X) filter bandpasses.  Such efficiency is required as we move beyond LEGUS and begin to rigorously explore low surface brightness star-forming environments where canonical results for the IMF and cluster formation efficiency are increasingly called into question.


Colloquium: Bharat Ratra (Host: Anatoly Klypin)
Sep 28 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Bharat Ratra (Host: Anatoly Klypin) @ BX102

Spatial Curvature, Dark Energy Dynamics, Neither, or Both?

Bharat Ratra, Kansas State University

Experiments and observations over the two last decades have persuaded cosmologists that (as yet undetected) dark energy is by far the main component of the energy budget of the current universe. I review a few simple dark energy models and compare their predictions to observational data, to derive dark energy model-parameter constraints and to test consistency of different data sets. I conclude with a list of open cosmological questions.
Colloquium: David Nataf (Host: Jason Jackiewicz)
Oct 5 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: David Nataf (Host: Jason Jackiewicz) @ BX102

Clues to Globular Cluster Formation

David Nataf, Johns Hopkins University

Globular clusters are now well-established to host “Second-generation” stars, which show anomalous abundances in some or all of He, C, N, O, Na, Al, Mg, etc.  The simplest explanations for these phenomena typically require the globular clusters to have been ~20x more massive at birth, and to have been enriched by processes which are not consistent with the theoretical predictions of massive star chemical synthesis models. The library of observations is now a vast one, yet there has been comparatively little progress in understanding how globular clusters could have formed and evolved. In this talk I discuss two new insights into the matter. First, I report on a meta-analysis of globular cluster abundances that combined APOGEE and literature data for 28 globular clusters, new trends with globular cluster mass are identified. I discuss the chemical properties of former globular cluster stars that are now part of the field population, and what can be learned.

Colloquium: Michelle Creech-Eakman (Host: Moire Prescott)
Oct 12 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Michelle Creech-Eakman (Host: Moire Prescott) @ BX102

The Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer: Design Details and Progress towards First Light with UT#1

Michelle Creech-Eakman, New Mexico Tech

The Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (MROI), a 10-telescope optical/near-IR interferometer in central NM, has been conceived to be the most ambitious optical interferometric array under construction to date. With baselines ranging from 7.8 to 347 meters, and limiting magnitudes of 14 at H band, it will be able to assess many thousands of astronomical targets on spatial scales of 10’s to 0.1’s of milliarcseconds. This is achieved through several careful design choices and trade-offs which should allow the MROI to reach 4-5 magnitudes deeper than similar facilities can achieve today. After over a decade of funding from NRL and the major partner institutions (NM Tech and Cambridge University), new funding was obtained in late 2015 via a Cooperative Agreement between NM Tech and the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) to bring the facility to a three-interferometer system capable of observing geosynchronous satellites. However, we still maintain an exciting and compelling astronomical portfolio which will produce statistical samples of: YSOs and their surrounding disks, systems dominated by mass-loss and mass-transfer, pulsating stars and binary star systems, and images of the environs of AGN in nearby galaxies. An overview of the major design components of this ambitious imaging machine, recent progress, and plans for MROI for the next 3 years under the AFRL Cooperative Agreement will be presented.

Colloquium: Sanchayeeta Borthakur (Host: Kristian Finlator)
Oct 19 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Sanchayeeta Borthakur (Host: Kristian Finlator) @ BX102

Understanding How Galaxies Reionized the Universe

 Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Arizona State University

Identifying the population of galaxies that was responsible for the reionization of the universe is a long-standing quest in astronomy. While young stars can produce large amounts of ionizing photons, the mechanism behind the escape of Lyman continuum photons (wavelength < 912 A) from star-forming regions has eluded us. To identify such galaxies and to understand the process of the escape of Lyman continuum, we present an indirect technique known as the residual flux technique. Using this technique, we identified (and later confirmed) the first low-redshift galaxy that has an escape fraction of ionizing flux of 21%. This leaky galaxy provides us with valuable insights into the physics of starburst-driven feedback. In addition, since direct detection of ionizing flux is impossible at the epoch of reionization, the residual flux technique presents a highly valuable tool for future studies to be conducted with the upcoming large telescopes such as the JWST.

Observatory Open House
Oct 19 @ 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Observatory Open House

Host: James McAteer. Assisted by Laurel Farris, Kristen Luchsinger, and Matthew Varakian

Colloquium: Kate Follette (Host: Moire Prescott)
Nov 2 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Kate Follette (Host: Moire Prescott) @ BX102

How to Take Pictures of Baby Planets

Kate Follette, Amherst College

Of the thousands of known extrasolar planets, why are the dozen or so directly imaged exoplanets among the most important despite their apparently anomalous properties within the general exoplanet population (>10 astronomical units, >2x the mass of Jupiter)? What are the prospects for (and recent successes in) detecting younger, lower-mass and/or closer-in planets via direct imaging? I will discuss the current state of the art in the field of high-contrast imaging of extrasolar planets and the disks of gas and dust from which planets form (“circumstellar disks”). I will place particular emphasis on a subset of objects that host both disks and (likely) planets – the so-called “transitional disks”. These young circumstellar disks are almost certainly actively undergoing planet formation, and yet the presence of disk material complicates our ability to isolate light from planets and/or protoplanets embedded within them. I will end by discussing recent results from the Giant Accreting Protoplanet Survey (GAPplanetS) of 15 southern-hemisphere transition disks. The GAPlanetS survey aims to find protoplanets embedded in transitional disks through a distinctive signature at hydrogen wavelengths, and has so far discovered: 2-3 planets, 1 accreting M-dwarf stellar companion, and 1 disk feature masquerading as a planet.

Colloquium: Laura Chomiuk (Host: Moire Prescott)
Nov 9 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Laura Chomiuk (Host: Moire Prescott) @ BX102

Rethinking the Fundamentals of Classical Nova Explosions

Laura Chomiuk, MSU

Over the past few years, a revolution has been taking place in our understanding of classical novae, largely driven by the discovery of GeV gamma-rays emanating from these garden-variety explosions. These gamma-rays hint that shocks are energetically important—perhaps even dominant—in novae. I will present our burgeoning understanding of shocks in novae, from both multi-wavelength observational and theoretical perspectives, and illustrate how novae can be used as testbeds to understand other shock-powered explosions.