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: 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.

Colloquium: Travis Metcalfe (Host: Jason Jackiewicz)
Sep 8 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Travis Metcalfe (Host: Jason Jackiewicz) @ BX102

The Magnetic Mid-life Crisis of the Sun

Dr. Travis Metcalfe, Space Sciences Institute

After decades of effort, the solar activity cycle is exceptionally well characterized but it remains poorly understood. Pioneering work at the Mount Wilson Observatory demonstrated that other sun-like stars also show regular activity cycles, and suggested two possible relationships between the rotation rate and the length of the cycle. Neither of these relationships correctly describe the properties of the Sun, a peculiarity that demands explanation. Recent discoveries have started to shed light on this issue, suggesting that the Sun’s rotation rate and magnetic field are currently in a transitional phase that occurs in all middle-aged stars. We have recently identified the manifestation of this magnetic transition in the best available data on stellar cycles. The results suggest that the solar cycle may be growing longer on stellar evolutionary timescales, and that the cycle might disappear sometime in the next 0.8-2.4 Gyr. Future tests of this hypothesis will come from ground-based activity monitoring of Kepler targets that span the magnetic transition, and from asteroseismology with the TESS mission to determine precise masses and ages for bright stars with known cycles.

Public Talk: “Preparing to Explore the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope” – Dr. Jane Rigby (NASA Goddard)
Nov 9 @ 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Public Talk: "Preparing to Explore the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope" - Dr. Jane Rigby (NASA Goddard) @ Gerald Thomas Hall, Room 194

Preparing to Explore the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope

Dr. Jane Rigby (NASA Goddard, Deputy Project Scientist for JWST)

Abstract: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to be launched in 2019, will revolutionize our view of the Universe.  As the scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST will rewrite the textbooks and return gorgeous images and spectra of our universe.   In my talk, I will show how JWST will revolutionize our understanding of how galaxies and supermassive black holes formed in the first billion years after the Big Bang, and how they evolved over cosmic time.  I’ll describe how our international team is preparing for launch, how we decide what targets to observe, and how we are testing the telescope to be sure it will work in space.

More information about the telescope can be found at



Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Ethan Dederick
Mar 28 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Ethan Dederick @ Science Hall 109

Seismic Inferences of Gas Giant Planets: Excitation & Interiors

Ethan Dederick, NMSU

Seismology has been the premier tool of study for understanding the interior structure of the Earth, the Sun, and even other stars. In this thesis we develop the framework for the first ever seismic inversion of a rapidly rotating gas giant planet. We extensively test this framework to ensure that the inversions are robust and operate within a linear regime. This framework is then applied to Saturn to solve for its interior density and sound speed profiles to better constrain its interior structure. This is done by incorporating observations of its mode frequencies derived from Linblad and Vertical Resonances in Saturn’s C-ring. We find that although the accuracy of the inversions is mitigated by the limited number of observed modes, we find that Saturn’s core density must be at least 8.97 +/- 0.01 g cm^{-3} below r/R_S = 0.3352 and its sound speed must be greater than 54.09 +/- 0.01 km s^{-1} below r/R_S = 0.2237. These new constraints can aid the development of accurate equations of state and thus help determine the composition in Saturn’s core. In addition, we investigate mode excitation and whether the \kappa-Mechanism can excite modes on Jupiter. While we find that the \kappa-Mechanism does not play a role in Jovian mode excitation, we discover a different opacity driven mechanism, The Radiative Suppression Mechanism, that can excite modes in hot giant planets orbiting extremely close to their host stars if they receive a stellar flux greater than 10^9~erg cm^{-2} s^{-1}. Finally, we investigate whether moist convection is responsible for exciting Jovian modes. Mode driving can occur if, on average, one cloud column with a 1-km radius exists per 6423 km^2 or if ~43 storms with 200 columns, each with a radius of 25 km, erupt per day. While this seems unlikely given current observations, moist convection does have enough thermal energy to drive Jovian oscillations, should it be available to them.

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


Pizza lunch: Nur Berdalieva and Shukur Kholikov
Nov 12 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza lunch: Nur Berdalieva and Shukur Kholikov @ AY 119

Past and Present Astronomy in Uzbekistan

Nur Berdalieva (Astronomical Institute of Uzbekistan) and Shukur Kholikov (National Solar Observatory)

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?

Graduate Program Information Session
Dec 15 @ 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Graduate Program Information Session @ virtual

Please join us for a virtual information session discussing the Astronomy graduate program. This is targeted for prospective graduate students, and will cover topics such as the admissions process, the research areas carried out by department members, our observational facilities, living in Las Cruces, and graduate-student life in general.

Current faculty and graduate students will be on hand to answer all of your questions.

Connection link:


See you there!