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: 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 PhD Defense: Meredith Rawls
Apr 8 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Meredith Rawls @ BX102

Red Giants in Eclipsing Binaries as a Benchmark for Asteroseismology

Meredith Rawls, NMSU

Colloquium PhD Defense: Kyle Uckert
Aug 26 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Kyle Uckert @ BX102

Characterization of Biosignatures within Geologic Samples Analyzed using a Suite of in situ Techniques

Kyle Uckert, NMSU   

I investigated the biosignature detection capabilities of several in situ techniques to evaluate their potential to
detect the presence of extant or extinct life on other planetary surfaces. These instruments included: a laser desorption
time-of- flight mass spectrometer (LD-TOF-MS), an acousto-optic tunable filter (AOTF) infrared (IR) point spectrometer, a
laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (LIBS), X-ray diffraction (XRD)/X-ray fluorescence (XRF), and scanning electron
microscopy (SEM)/energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy (EDS). I measured the IR reflectance spectra of several speleothems
in caves in situ to detect the presence of biomineralization. Microorganisms (such as those that may exist on other solar
system bodies) mediate redox reactions to obtain energy for growth and reproduction, producing minerals such as
carbonates, metal oxides, and sulfates as waste products. Microbes occasionally become entombed in their mineral
excrement, essentially acting as a nucleation site for further crystal growth. This process produces minerals with a
crystal lattice distinct from geologic precipitation, detectable with IR reflectance spectroscopy. Using a suite of
samples collected from three subterranean environments, along with statistical analyses including principal component
analysis, I measured subsurface biosignatures associated with these biomineralization effects, including the presence of
trace elements, morphological characteristics, organic molecules, and amorphous crystal structures.

I also explored the optimization of a two-step LD-TOF-MS (L2MS) for the detection of organic molecules and other
biosignatures. I focused my efforts on characterizing the L2MS desorption IR laser wavelength dependence on organic
detection sensitivity in an effort to optimize the detection of high mass (≤100 Da) organic peaks. I analyzed samples
with an IR reflectance spectrometer and an L2MS with a tunable desorption IR laser whose wavelength range (2.7 – 3.45
microns) overlaps that of our IR spectrometer (1.6 – 3.6 microns), and discovered a IR resonance enhancement effect. A
correlation between the maximum IR absorption of organic functional group and mineral vibrational transitions – inferred
from the IR spectrum – and the optimal IR laser configuration for organic detection using L2MS indicates that IR
spectroscopy may be used to inform the optimal L2MS IR laser wavelength for organic detection. This work suggests that a
suite of instruments, particularly LD-TOF-MS and AOTF IR spectroscopy, has strong biosignature detection potential on a
future robotic platform for investigations of other planetary surfaces or subsurfaces.

Colloquium: Bryan Butler (Host: Nancy Chanover)
Jan 27 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Bryan Butler (Host: Nancy Chanover) @ BX 102

Observations of Solar System Bodies with the VLA and ALMA

Dr. Bryan Butler, NRAO

Observations of solar system bodies at wavelengths from submm to meter wavelengths provide important and unique information about those bodies. Such observations probe to depths unreachable at other wavelengths – typically of order 10-20 wavelengths for bodies with solid surfaces, and as deep as tens of bars for those with thick atmospheres (the giant planets). In the past five years, two instruments have been commissioned which have revolutionized the ability to make very sensitive, high-resolution observations at these wavelengths: the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). I will present a discussion of results over the past five years from observations from both the VLA and ALMA. These include observations of the atmospheres of all of the giant planets, the rings of Saturn, and the surfaces of many icy bodies in the outer solar system. I will also present plans for the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA), the next step for millimeter to centimeter wavelength interferometry.

Joint Physics/Astronomy Colloquium: William Newman
Mar 28 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Joint Physics/Astronomy Colloquium: William Newman @ Gardiner Hall 229, Physics. Dept. | Ames | Iowa | United States

Giant Planet Shielding of the Inner Solar System Revisited: Blending Celestial Mechanics with Advanced Computation

Dr. William Newman, UCLA

The Earth has sustained during the last billion years as many as five catastrophic collisions with asteroids and comets which led to widespread species extinctions. Our own atmosphere was literally blown away 4.5 billion years ago by a collision with a Mars-sized impactor. However, collisions with comets originating in the outer solar system accreted much of the present-day atmosphere. Relatively advanced life on our planet is the beneficiary of a number of impact events during Earth’s history which built our atmosphere without destroying a large fraction of terrestrial life. Using very high precision Monte Carlo integration methods to explore the orbital evolution over hundreds of millions of years followed by the application of celestial mechanical techniques, the presentation will explain directly how Earth was shielded by the combined influence of Jupiter and Saturn, assuring that only 1 in 100,000 potential collisions with the Earth will materialize.


Colloquium: Rixin Li (Host: Wladimir Lyra)
Nov 22 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Rixin Li (Host: Wladimir Lyra) @ BX102

Simulating Planetesimal Formation in the Kuiper Belt and Beyond

Rixin Li, University of Arizona

A critical step in planet formation is to build super-km-sized planetesimals in protoplanetary disks. The origin and demographics of planetesimals are crucial to understanding the Solar System, circumstellar disks, and exoplanets. I will overview the current status of planetesimal formation theory. Specifically, I will present our recent simulations of planetesimal formation by the streaming instability, a mechanism to aerodynamically concentrate pebbles in protoplanetary disks. I will then discuss the connections between our numerical models and recent astronomical observations and Solar System explorations. I will explain why all planetesimals likely formed as binaries.