Tombaugh Observatory Open House
Sep 9 @ 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Tombaugh Observatory Open House @ Tombaugh Observatory | Las Cruces | New Mexico | United States

The NMSU Department of Astronomy will hold an observatory open house at the NMSU campus observatory at 8 p.m.Friday, Sept. 9. Astronomy personnel on hand will be Chris Churchill and graduate assistants Xander Thelen, Trevor Picard and Jacob Vander Vliet.

Guests can view Mars and Saturn together in the evening sky in the constellation of Scorpio. Telescopes will also have the center of the Milky Way Galaxy in view, and in this region there are many beautiful star clusters and globular clusters (tight groups of millions of stars). High in the sky, viewers will see the constellation Vega with its double-double star system and the famous ring nebula, which is the remnants of a dying star much like our own sun. The moon will be in the phase called first quarter and will make a wonderful sight.

Contact the NMSU Astronomy Department at 575-646-4438 with questions. Everyone is welcome to come and spend an evening of stargazing. Admission is free and children are especially welcome to attend.

For information on what is up in September, go here:

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 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: Isak Wold (Host: Moire Prescott)
Sep 1 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Isak Wold (Host: Moire Prescott) @ BX102

A Faint Flux-Limited LAE Sample at z = 0.3

Isak Wold, UT Austin

Observational surveys of Lya emitters (LAEs) have proven to be an efficient method to identify and study large numbers of galaxies over a wide redshift range. To understand what types of galaxies are selected in LAE surveys – and how this evolves with redshift – it is important to establish a low-redshift reference sample that can be directly compared to high-redshift samples.  The lowest redshift where a direct Lya survey is currently possible is at a redshift of z~0.3 via the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX ) FUV grism data. Using the z~0.3 GALEX sample as an anchor point, it has been suggested that at low redshifts high equivalent width (EW) LAEs become less prevalent and that the amount of escaping Lya emission declines rapidly.  A number of explanations for these trends have been suggested including increasing dust content, increasing neutral column density, and/or increasing metallicity of star-forming galaxies at lower redshifts. However, the published z~0.3 GALEX sample is pre-selected from bright NUV objects.  Thus, objects with strong Lya emission but faint continuum (high-EW LAEs) could be missed.  In this talk, I will present my efforts to re-reduce the deepest archival GALEX FUV grism data and obtain a sample that is not biased against high-EW LAEs.  I will discuss the implications of this new sample on the evolutionary trends listed above.

Pizza Lunch: Kristian Finlator
Oct 23 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Kristian Finlator @ AY 119

Vastly Improved Simulations of the Hydrogen Reionization Epoch: Too Much for One Paper?

Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Sten Hasselquist
Apr 6 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Sten Hasselquist @ BX102

Colloquium Title

Sten Hasselquist, NMSU


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.

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.

Colloquium: Elise Boera (Host: Kristian Finlator)
Dec 6 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Elise Boera (Host: Kristian Finlator) @ BX102

Revealing reionization with the thermal history of the intergalactic medium

Elisa Boera, SISSA Trieste

During hydrogen reionization the UV radiation from the first luminous sources injected vast amount of energy into the intergalactic medium, photo-heating the gas to tens of thousands of degree Kelvin. This increase in temperature has left measurable `imprints’ in the thermal history of the cosmic gas: a peak in the temperature evolution at the mean density and a smoothing out of the gas in the physical space by the increased gas pressure following reionization (i.e. Jeans smoothing effect). The structures of the HI Lyman-alpha forest at high redshift are sensitive to both these effects and therefore represent a powerful tool to understand when and how reionization happened. I will present the most recent constraints on the thermal history of the intergalactic medium obtained using the Lyman-alpha forest flux power spectrum at z>5. I will show how these results can be used to obtain information on the timing and the sources of the reionization process and I will discuss their consistency with different possible reionization scenarios.