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 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.


Pizza Lunch: Karen Kinemuchi
Dec 4 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Karen Kinemuchi @ AY 119

Life at Apache Point Observatory

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 Thesis Defense: Lauren Kahre
Jan 23 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium Thesis Defense: Lauren Kahre

Extinction Mapping and Dust-to-Gas Ratios of Nearby Galaxies

Lauren Kahre, NMSU

We present a study of the dust{to{gas ratios in 31 nearby (D >
10 Mpc) galaxies. Using Hubble Space Telescope broad band WFC3/UVIS UV and
optical images from the Treasury program LEGUS (Legacy ExtraGalactic UV
Survey) combined with archival HST/ACS data, we correct thousands of
individual stars for extinction across these galaxies using an
isochrone-matching (reddening-free Q) method. We generate extinction maps
for each galaxy from the individual stellar extinctions using both
adaptive and fixed resolution techniques, and correlate these maps with
neutral HI and CO gas maps from literature, including The HI Nearby Galaxy
Survey (THINGS) and the HERA CO-Line ExtraGalactic Survey (HERACLES). We
calculate dust-to-gas ratios and investigate variations in the dust-to-gas
ratio with galaxy metallicity. We find a power law relationship between
dust-to-gas ratio and metallicity. The single power law is consistent with
other studies of dust-to-gas ratio compared to metallicity, while the
broken power law shows a significantly shallower slope for low metallicity
galaxies than previously observed. We find a change in the relation when
H_2 is not included. This implies that underestimation of N_H2 in
low-metallicity dwarfs from a too-low CO-to-H2 conversion factor X_CO
could have produced too low a slope in the derived relationship between
dust-to-gas ratio and metallicity. We also
compare our extinctions to those derived from fitting the spectral energy
distribution (SED) using the Bayesian Extinction and Stellar Tool (BEAST)
for NGC 7793 and and systematically lower extinctions from SED-fitting as
compared to isochrone matching. Finally, we compare our extinction maps of
NGC 628 to maps of the dust obtained via IR emission from Aniano et al.
(2012) and find a factor of 2 difference in dust-to-gas ratios determined
from the two maps, consistent with previous work.

Special Colloquium: Stella Kafka (Host: Karen Kinemuchi)
Feb 20 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Special Colloquium: Stella Kafka (Host: Karen Kinemuchi) @ Domenici Hall

The AAVSO Program: A Resource for Variable Star Research

Stella Kafka, AAVSO

The AAVSO was formed in 1911 as a group of US-based amateur observers obtaining data in support of professional astronomy projects. Now, it has evolved into an International Organization with members and observers from both the professional and non-professional astronomical community, contributing photometry to a public photometric database of about 25,000 variable objects, and using it for research projects. As such, the AAVSO’s main claim to fame is that it successfully engages backyard Astronomers, educators, students and professional astronomers in astronomical research. I will present the main aspects of the association and how it has evolved with time to become a premium resource for variable star researchers. I will also discuss the various means that the AAVSO is using to support cutting-edge variable star science, and how it engages its members in projects building a stronger international astronomical community.


Dr. Stella Kafka, is the Director of the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers). Before her tenure at the AAVSO, Dr Kafka held positions at CTIO, Spitzer Science center/Caltech, Carnegie Institution of Washington/DTM and AIP Publishing. The AAVSO is an international non-profit organization of variable star observers whose mission is to enable anyone, anywhere, to participate in scientific discovery through variable star astronomy.

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)

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?