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.
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.
Starless clumps and the earliest phases of high-mass star formation in the Milky Way
Brian Svoboda, NRAO Jansky Fellow
High-mass stars are key to regulating the interstellar medium, star formation activity, and overall evolution of galaxies, but their formation remains an open problem in astrophysics. In order to understand the physical conditions during the earliest phases of high-mass star formation, I will present observational studies we have carried out on dense starless clump candidates (SCCs) that show no signatures of star formation activity. We identify 2223 SCCs from the 1.1 mm Bolocam Galactic Plane Survey, systematically analyse their physical properties, and show that the starless phase is not represented by a single timescale, but evolves more rapidly with increasing clump mass. To investigate the sub-structure in SCCs at high spatial resolution, we investigate the 12 most high-mass SCCs within 5 kpc using ALMA. We find previously undetected low-luminosity protostars in 11 out of 12 SCCs, fragmentation equal to the thermal Jeans length of the clump, and no starless cores exceeding 30 solar masses. While uncertainties remain concerning the star formation efficiency in this sample, these observational facts are consistent with models where high-mass stars form from initially low- to intermediate-mass protostars that accrete most of their mass from the surrounding clump. I will also present on-going research studying gas inflow signatures with GBT/Argus and ALMA, and the dense core mass function with the JVLA.
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An Observer’s Examination of the Circumgalactic Medium using Cosmological Simulations
Rachel Marra, NMSU
A significant aspect to understanding galaxy evolution is having an understanding of the intricacies involving the inflow and outflow of baryons onto a galaxy. Gas needs to accrete onto the galaxy in order for star formation to occur, while stellar winds, supernovae, and radiation pressure result in the outflow of gas from the galaxy. The diffuse region around the galaxy that has gas from interstellar medium (ISM) inflows and intergalactic medium (IGM) outflows interacting is the circumgalactic medium (CGM). Studying the CGM will help us learn about the baryon cycle and give us a better understanding of galactic evolution.
The primary method to studying the CGM is through absorption, as the density is too low to detect emission. Studying these absorption features allows us to learn about the physical properties of the gas giving rise to the absorption. Other than through observations, cosmological simulations play a large role in how we learn about the CGM of galaxies. Using MOCKSPEC, the Quasar Absorption Line Analysis Pipeline, to create mock quasar sightlines through the VELA simulation suite of galaxies, we use the absorption features seen in the sightlines to study the CGM in the simulations. While there are many ions that are used to study the CGM, we focus on OVI.
We intend to study how effective our methods are for studying the CGM with both observations and simulations. The covering fraction of OVI for a sample of observed galaxies will be compared with the covering fraction that is found from a selection of LOS that probe simulated, Milky-Way type galaxies. This tells us if the simulations can reproduce the observations, and if they do not, we can gain insights as to why the simulations do not match observed data. We will also investigate if the metallicity calculated from an observed absorption feature reflects the actual metallicity of the probed gas by using mock sightlines through simulations. Additionally, we will do a comparison of different methodologies used to study the CGM in simulations, to determine if using mock quasar sightlines is a more realistic and accurate method to compare to observed data.
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.
Promoting Graduate Student Wellness: A Guide for Faculty and Staff
Marie Zubiate, Aggie Health and Wellness Center
As graduate students demonstrate signs of emotional and psychological distress, faculty and staff play an important role in supporting students, who may be in challenging situations. This guided discussion will outline important information to assist graduate students, including identifying warning signs of distress, and ways for faculty to address students, if concerned.
The SPLASH Survey of the Andromeda Galaxy
Raja Guhathurkurta, University of California, Santa Cruz
Our nearest large spiral galaxy neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy (M31),
and its dwarf satellites, offer a panoramic yet detailed view of
galaxy formation and evolution in our astronomical backyard. This
system also serves as an excellent laboratory for the study of stellar
populations because the stars are all practically at the same distance
from us. I will present results from the SPLASH (Spectroscopic and
Photometric Landscape of Andromeda’s Stellar Halo) survey, the
backbone of which was a large Keck DEIMOS spectroscopic survey of
evolved stars in M31. Most of the SPLASH spectroscopic targets in
M31’s disk were selected from the PHAT (Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda
Treasury) survey, a wide-field 6-filter Hubble Space Telescope mosaic
image of a portion of the disk of M31. The talk will cover a range of
science topics including: Local Group dynamics, structure/substructure
and metallicity of M31’s stellar halo, satellite tidal interactions,
disk/halo interface, dynamical heating of the disk, and rare stellar
Solving the Puzzles of the Moon
Shun Karato, Yale University
After 50 years from the first landing of men on the Moon, about 380 kg of samples were collected by the Apollo mission. Chemical analyses of these samples together with a theory of planetary formation led to a “giant impact” paradigm (in mid 1970s). In this paradigm, the Moon was formed in the later stage of Earth formation (not the very late stage, though), when the proto-Earth was hit by an impactor with a modest size (~ Mars size) at an oblique angle. Such an impact is a natural consequence of planetary formation from a proto-planetary nebula. This collision may have kicked out mantle materials from the proto-Earth to form the Moon. This model explains mostly rocky composition of the Moon and the large angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system. High temperatures caused by an impact likely removed much of the volatile components such as water.
However, two recent geochemical observations cast doubt about the validity of such a paradigm. They include (i) not-so-dry Moon suggested from the analysis of basaltic inclusions in olivine, and (ii) the high degree of similarities in many isotopes. The first observation is obviously counter-intuitive, but the second one is also hard to reconcile with the standard model of a giant impact, because many models show that a giant impact produces the Moon mostly from the impactor. In this presentation, I will show how one can solve these puzzles by a combination of physics/chemistry of materials with some basic physics of a giant impact.
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.