Colloquium PhD Defense: Sean Markert
Mar 31 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Sean Markert


Dr. S. Markert, NMSU


The weak gravitational lensing of galaxy clusters is a valuable tool. The deflection of light around a lens is solely dependent on the underlying distribution of foreground mass, and independent of tracers of mass such as the mass to light ratio and kinematics. As a direct probe of mass, weak lensing serves as an independent calibration of mass-observable relationships. These massive clusters are objects of great interest to astronomers, as their abundance is dependent on the conditions of the early universe, and accurate counts of clusters serve as a test of cosmological model. Upcoming surveys, such as LSST and DES, promise to push the limit of observable weak lensing, detecting clusters and sources at higher redshift than has ever been detected before. This makes accurate counts of clusters of a given mass and redshift, and proper calibration of mass-observable relationships, vital to cosmological studies.
We used M> 10 13.5 h −1 M ⊙ halos from the MultiDark Planck simulation at z∼0.5 to study the behavior of the reduced shear in clusters. We generated 2D maps of convergence and shear the halos using the GLAMER lensing library. Using these maps, we simulated observations of randomly placed background sources, and generate azimuthal averages of the shear. This reduced shear profile, and the true reduced shear profile of the halo, is fit using analytical solutions for shear of the NFW, Einasto, and truncated NFW density profile. The masses of these density profiles are then compared to the total halo masses from the halo catalogs.
We find that fits to the reduced shear for halos extending past ≈ 2 h −1 Mpc are fits to the noise of large scale structure along the line of sight. This noise is largely in the 45 ◦ rotated component to the reduced tangential shear, and is a breakdown in the approximation of g tan ≈g tot required for density profile fitting of clusters. If fits are constrained to a projected radii of < 2 h −1 Mpc, we see massively improved fits insensitive to the amount of structure present along the line of sight.

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.


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: Gordon MacDonald
Mar 2 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Gordon MacDonald @ BX102

Colloquium Title

Gordon MacDonald, NMSU


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


Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover)
Sep 12 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover) @ Domenici Hall Room 102

The Chemical Composition and Dynamics of Titan’s Atmosphere as Revealed by ALMA

Alexander Thelen, NMSU

Over the last century, remarkable advances in our understanding of Titan’s atmosphere have been accomplished by a campaign of ground- and space-based observations revealing a wealth of complex, organic species in the moon’s upper atmosphere. Many of Titan’s atmospheric constituents produced through the photochemistry and ionospheric interactions of N2 and CH4 exhibit significant variations with latitude and time, particularly towards the poles and within the winter circumpolar vortex. The measurement of spatial and temporal variations in Titan’s atmosphere enables us to elucidate connections between its dynamics, photochemistry, and the influence of seasonal changes. At the end of the Cassini mission in 2017, we can employ the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) for future observations of Titan’s atmosphere. Here we detail the analysis of numerous short integration (~3 minute) ALMA observations from 2012 to 2015 to investigate Titan’s stratospheric composition, temporal variations, and search for new molecular species. Using the Non-linear optimal Estimator for MultivariatE spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) radiative transfer code, we retrieved vertical profiles of temperature and abundance in Titan’s lower stratosphere through mesosphere (~50–550 km) from three spatially independent regions. We modeled CO emission lines to obtain temperature measurements, and retrieved abundance profiles for HCN, HC3N, C3H4, and CH3CN. The combination of integrated flux maps and vertical atmospheric profiles from spatially resolved observations allowed us to study the circulation of Titan’s middle atmosphere during northern spring. We observed increased temperatures in Titan’s stratopause at high northern latitudes and a persistent northern enrichment of HCN, C3H4, and CH3CN during this epoch; however, increased abundances of all molecules in the southern mesosphere, particularly HCN, and spatial maps of HC3N also show evidence for subsidence at the south pole. We validated these measurements through direct comparisons with contemporaneous Cassini data, previous ground-based observations, and photochemical model results. While no new trace species were detected, ALMA has proven to be a highly capable asset to enhance the data from the final few years of the Cassini mission, and for the continued study of Titan’s atmospheric dynamics, composition, and chemistry into Titan’s northern summer.