The Astronomy Department at NMSU is actively engaged in a variety of research programs, including planetary science, solar physics, interstellar medium, variable stars, and extragalactic and cosmological studies. Research efforts include both observational and theoretical aspects. NMSU graduate students play key roles and/or lead the efforts as they work toward earning their PhD degree.
NMSU faculty, students, and resident planetary scientists use sophisticated computer models of the atmospheres of Mars and Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, in order to understand their climate and annual atmospheric cycles. We use the most current data from NASA Mars landers and Cassini’s probe on Titan. NMSU houses the Planetary Data Systems (PDS) node for planetary atmospheres data, a NASA-funded archive of planetary data used by researchers world-wide. The PDS node employs several researchers full-time, and offers a possibilities for archival planetary atmospheres research.
NMSU faculty and students are involved with cutting edge observational research on cataclysmic variable stars (active binary stars, including exotic so-called magnetars). The Spitzer infrared and Chandra space telescopes, and the ground-based APO and Keck telescopes, are key facilities for this type of research. Theoretical advances are pushing forward our understanding of the distribution of interacting binaries, such as white dwarf binaries and neutron stars-white dwarf binaries, to better understand the progenitors of gamma ray bursters. In solar physics, faculty and students study global seismology, chromospheric heating, solar flares and coronal mass ejections using SoHO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and ground based facilities at the National Solar Observatory.
Galactic research includes the study of stellar populations as a function of location in the Milky Way galaxy and nearby galaxies such as the Andromeda galaxy. NMSU faculty and students also study of the interstellar medium in star forming regions. In the local solar neighborhood, great strides are being made using cosmic rays detected with Voyager I and II to study of the interface between the sun’s solar wind and the ambient interstellar medium. The active “cores” of galaxies are studied in order to understand the voracious black holes in their centers (and help us learn why the 3 million solar mass black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy is quiescent).
The study of very distant galaxies, galaxy formation, and the structure of the universe are very active areas of research. We are actively engaged in supernova searches in distant galaxies. NMSU astronomers are “weighing” baby galaxies as they grow into modern day versions. Using the spectra of quasars, NMSU faculty and students are also studying the huge gaseous envelopes around galaxies that connect them to the cosmic web of intergalactic gas. World class computer simulations of cosmic evolution and galaxy formation are a strong component of NMSU extragalactic research.
Students are actively encouraged to be involved in research programs and frequently assume the primary role, leading to journal publications with students as the lead author. Postdoctoral researchers are actively encouraged to be principal investigators on research grants and initiatives.
Our students and faculty make use of our own observatories at Apache Point, and have also used the national facilities at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA) near Socorro, NM, the National Optical Astronomical Observatory telescopes both in Arizona and Chile, the Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, the Keck and Subaru telescopes, and the National Solar Observatory facilities.
We are a member of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey consortium. A subset of our faculty and students have access to the most up-to-date SDSS database; everyone has access to the public part of the database, and experience exists in the department to facilitate use of this exciting resource.
Photo Credits: APO, AURA, HST, NASA, NOAO, NRAO, NSF & Sloan