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.

Pizza Lunch: Ken Naiff
Oct 16 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Ken Naiff @ AY 119

Dark Sky Images

Ken Naiff

Ken, an retired engineer, is a highly technically skilled and artistic
astrophotographer.  He will be sharing some of his work and elaborating on
the technical methods and processing techniques he applies to obtain his
unique and enhanced images.  You can see Ken’s work at:


Colloquium (Joint with Physics): Jim Fuller (Host: Ethan Dederick)
Mar 29 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Colloquium (Joint with Physics): Jim Fuller (Host: Ethan Dederick) @ Gardiner Hall 230

Surprising Impacts of Gravity Waves

Jim Fuller, Caltech

Gravity waves are low frequency fluid oscillations restored by buoyancy forces in planetary and stellar interiors. Despite their ubiquity, the importance of gravity waves in evolutionary processes and asteroseismology has only recently been appreciated. For instance, Kepler asteroseismic data has revealed gravity modes in thousands of red giant stars, providing unprecedented measurements of core structure and rotation. I will show how gravity modes (or lack thereof) can also reveal strong magnetic fields in the cores of red giants, and I will demonstrate that strong fields appear to be common within “retired” A stars but are absent in their lower-mass counterparts. In the late phase evolution of massive stars approaching core-collapse, vigorous convection excites gravity waves that can redistribute huge amounts of energy within the star. I will present preliminary models of this process, showing how wave energy redistribution can drive outbursts and enhanced mass loss in the final years of massive star evolution, with important consequences for the appearance of subsequent supernovae.
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: Lisa Young (Host: Rene Walterbos)
Aug 30 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Lisa Young (Host: Rene Walterbos) @ BX102

Cold Gas and the Evolution of Early-type Galaxies

Lisa Young, New Mexico Tech

A major theme of galaxy evolution is understanding how today’s Hubble sequence was
established — what makes some galaxies red spheroidals and others blue disks, and what
drives their relative numbers and their spatial distributions. One way of addressing these
questions is that galaxies themselves hold clues to their formation in their internal
structures. Recent observations of early-type galaxies in particular (ellipticals and
lenticulars) have shown that their seemingly placid, nearly featureless optical images can
be deceptive. Kinematic data show that the early-type galaxies have a wide variety of
internal kinematic structures that are the relics of dramatic merging and accretion
events. A surprising number of the early-type galaxies also contain cold atomic and
molecular gas, which is significant because their transitions to the red sequence must
involve removing most of their cold gas (the raw material for star formation). We can now
also read clues to the evolution of early-type galaxies in the kinematics and the
metallicity of their gas, and possibly also in the rare isotope abundance patterns in the
cold gas. Numerical simulations are beginning to work on reproducing these cold gas
properties, so that we can place the early-type galaxies into their broader context.

(incomplete video)

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.


Pizza Lunch: Sultan Hassan
Oct 28 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Sultan Hassan @ AY 119

What can DLAs tell us about galaxy formation?

Colloquium: Jacob Vander Vliet (Host: Chris Churchill)
Nov 8 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Jacob Vander Vliet (Host: Chris Churchill) @ BX102

Galaxy Evolution in a Computer Box, or “How to turn a PhD on Theoretical Galaxy Evolution into a Scientific Programming Career with NASA”

Jacob Vander Vliet, NASA/SOFIA

I graduated from NMSU in 2017 with a PhD entitled “Observing the Baryon Cycle in Hydrodynamic Cosmological Simulations”.  I am happy to discuss the journey I took from primarily scientific interest in this problem to a primarily programming and computational interest in this problem.  One of the major outcomes of my dissertation was to build pipeline software for analysis of the hydrodynamic simulations using the “quasar absorption line technique from which we study the circumgalactic medium in the simulations in order to learn about the so-called baryon cycle.  Following graduation, I continued on as a “research assistant” at NMSU, and then landed a job with NASA at Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and a scientific programmer.  I will discuss the type of science done at SOFIA and the virtues and differences of a non-academic position out of graduate school.

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.