Colloquium PhD Defense: Jacob Vander Vliet
May 5 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Jacob Vander Vliet @ Domenici Hall 106

Observing the Baryon Cycle in Hydrodynamic Cosmological Simulations

Jacob Vander Vliet, NMSU

An understanding of galaxy evolution requires an understanding of the flow of baryons in and out of a galaxy. The accretion of baryons is required for galaxies to form stars, while stars eject baryons out of the galaxy through stellar feedback mechanisms such as supernovae, stellar winds, and radiation pressure. The interplay between outflowing and infalling material form the circumgalactic medium (CGM). Hydrodynamic simulations provide understanding in the connection between stellar feedback and the distribution and kinematics of baryons in the CGM. To compare simulations and observations properly the simulated CGM must be observed in the same manner as the real CGM. I have developed the Mockspec code to generate synthetic quasar absorption line observations of the CGM in cosmological hydrodynamic simulations. Mockspec generates synthetic spectra based on the phase, metallicity, and kinematics of CGM gas and mimics instrumental effects. Mockspec includes automatic analysis of the spectra and identifies the gas responsible for the absorption. Mockspec was applied to simulations of dwarf galaxies at low redshift to examine the observable effect different feedback models have on the CGM. While the different feedback models had strong effects on the galaxy, they all produced a similar CGM that failed match observations. Mockspec was applied to the VELA simulation suite of high redshift, high mass galaxies to examine the variance of the CGM across different galaxies in different environments. The observable CGM showed little variation between the different galaxies and almost no evolution from z=4 to z=1. The VELAs were not able to generate a CGM to match the observations. The properties of cells responsible for the absorption were compared to the derived properties from Voigt Profile decomposition. VP modeling was found to accurately describe the HI and MgII absorbing gas but failed for high ionization species such as CIV and OVI, which do not arise in the assumed coherent structures.  The technique of mock QAL is useful for testing the accuracy of the simulated CGM and for verifying observational techniques, but not for differentiating between feedback prescriptions in dwarf galaxies.


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 PhD Defense: Nigel Mathes
Jul 3 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Nigel Mathes

The Vulture Survey of MgII and CIV Absorbers: Feasting on the Bones of Spectra Left to Die

Nigel Mathes, NMSU


We present detailed measurements of the absorption properties and redshift evolution of MgII and CIV absorbers as measured in archival spectra from the UVES spectrograph at the Very Large Telescope (VLT/UVES) and the HIRES spectrograph at the Keck Telescope (Keck/HIRES) to equivalent width detection limits below 0.01 angstroms. This survey examines 860 high resolution spectra from various archival data sets representing 700 unique sightlines, allowing for detections of intervening MgII absorbers spanning redshifts 0.1 < z < 2.6 and intervening CIV absorbers spanning redshifts 1 < z < 5. We employ an accurate, automated approach to line detection which consistently detects redshifted absorption doublets. We observe three distinct epochs of evolution in the circumgalactic medium (CGM) as traced by MgII and CIV absorbers. At high redshifts, from 3 < z < 5, galaxies rapidly build up a metal enriched halo where, despite significant evolution in the ionizing background, the production of metals through star formation driven outflows dominates observed trends increasing the number of observed absorbers per redshift path length towards z = 3. At mid redshifts, from 2 < z < 3, a large cosmic increase in the global star formation rate drives large numbers of high column density outflows into the halos of galaxies. At this time, metal line absorption of all species is increased above all other epochs. At low redshifts, for z < 2, the universe becomes more quiescent in both star formation and ionizing background. Weak, low column density MgII absorbers proliferate, while strong MgII absorbers likely fragment or re-accrete onto their host galaxy. Strong CIV absorbers, at this time, still increase in number per absorption path, while their weaker counterparts begin to disappear. MgII and CIV absorbers appear to originate in star formation driven outflows, but their different evolutionary properties imply they represent two physically distinct phases of gas. These two phases comprise the CGM and contribute separately to the cycle of baryons into and out of galaxies.

Colloquium PhD Defense: Jean McKeever
Sep 20 @ 3:00 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Jean McKeever @ Business College 103

Asteroseismology of Red Giants: The Detailed Modeling of Red Giants in Eclipsing Binary Systems

Jean McKeever, NMSU

Asteroseismology is an invaluable tool that allows one to peer into the inside of a star and know its fundamental stellar properties with relative ease. There has been much exploration of solar-like oscillations within red giants with recent advances in technology, leading to new innovations in observing. The Kepler mission, with its 4-year observations of a single patch of sky, has opened the floodgates on asteroseismic studies. Binary star systems are also an invaluable tool for their ability to provide independent constraints on fundamental stellar parameters such as mass and radius. The asteroseismic scaling laws link observables in the light curves of stars to the physical parameters in the star, providing a unique tool to study large populations of stars quite easily. In this work we present our 4-year radial velocity observing program to provide accurate dynamical masses for 16 red giants in eclipsing binary systems. From this we find that asteroseismology overestimates the mass and radius of red giants by 15% and 5% respectively. We further attempt to model the pulsations of a few of these stars using stellar evolution and oscillation codes. The goal is to determine which masses are correct and if there is a physical cause for the discrepancy in asteroseismic masses. We find there are many challenges to modeling evolved stars such as red giants and we address a few of the major concerns. These systems are some of the best studied systems to date and further exploration of their asteroseismic mysteries is inevitable.


Special Pizza Lunch: Jane Rigby
Nov 9 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Special Pizza Lunch: Jane Rigby @ AY 119

Galaxy Evolution in High Definition Via Gravitational Lensing

Dr. Jane Rigby

Deputy Project Scientist for JWST, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Abstract: In hundreds of known cases, “gravitational lenses” have deflected, distorted, and amplified images of galaxies or quasars behind them.  As such, gravitational lensing is a way to “cheat” at studying how galaxies evolve:  lensing can magnify galaxies by factors of 10–100 times, transforming them from objects we can barely detect to bright objects we can study in detail.   For such rare objects, we are studying how galaxies formed stars at redshifts of 1–4, the epoch when most of the Universe’s stars were formed. For lensed galaxies, we can obtained spectral diagnostics that are currently unavailable for the distant universe, but will become routine with next-generation telescopes.

In particular, I’ll discuss MEGaSaURA, The Magellan Evolution of Galaxies Spectroscopic and Ultraviolet Reference Atlas, which comprises high signal-to-noise, medium spectral resolution (R~3300) spectra of 15 extremely bright gravitationally lensed galaxies at redshifts of 1.6<z<3.6.   The sample, drawn from the SDSS Giant Arcs Survey, are many of the brightest lensed galaxies known.  The MEGaSaURA spectra reveal a wealth of spectral diagnostics: absorption from the outflowing wind; nebular emission lines that will be key diagnostics for JWST, GMT, and TMT; and photospheric absorption lines and P Cygni profiles from the massive stars that power the outflow.

Pizza Lunch: James Lewis
Nov 13 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: James Lewis @ AY 119

Multivariate Analysis of the CGM

Pizza Lunch: Michael Hayden
Jun 21 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Pizza Lunch: Michael Hayden @ AY 119

Chemical Cartography of the Milky Way

Michael Hayden, Sydney Institute for Astronomy (NMSU alumnus)

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: Eric Nielsen (Host: Moire Prescott)
Sep 13 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Eric Nielsen (Host: Moire Prescott) @ BX102

Charting the Outer Reaches of Exoplanetary Systems: Wide-Separation Giant Planet Demographics with Direct Imaging

Eric Nielsen, Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, Stanford University

Over the past decade, the combination of advances in adaptive optics, coronagraphy, and data processing has enabled the direct detection and characterization of giant exoplanets orbiting young, nearby stars. In addition to the wealth of information about exoplanetary atmospheres we obtain from spectroscopy of directly imaged planets, the demographics of these wide-separation planets allow us to directly test theories of planet formation, probing the outer planetary systems compared to transit and radial velocity techniques. In this talk I will present results from the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPIES), which surveyed 521 nearby stars for giant planet and brown dwarf companions orbiting beyond 5 AU, and is one of the largest, deepest direct imaging searches for exoplanets every conducted. The overall occurrence rate of substellar companions, and trends with companion mass, semi-major axis, and stellar mass are consistent with giant planets forming via core accretion, and point to different formation mechanisms for giant planets and brown dwarfs between 10 and 100 AU.


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.