Night sky tour ignites the SPARK within

UConn undergraduates Sam Cutler (left) Tyler Metivier (right) and Amelia Henkel (not pictured) set up to lead a night sky tour for a group of girls at a STEM summer camp.

UConn undergraduate physics majors Amelia Henkel, Sam Cutler and Tyler Metivier led a night sky tour for a group of about 30 middle school and high school aged girls at Horsebarn Hill on Thursday, July 12th.  The event was put on for SPARK, a summer residential program where young females are using math and science skills in hands-on projects and experiments.  The SPARK program runs for four weeks over the month of July and is sponsored by the School of Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center at UConn.  Amelia, Sam and Tyler will be leading night sky tours for the next three cohorts of the SPARK summer program in the coming weeks.

Cutler Awarded NASA CT Space Grant Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Connecticut Space Grant Consortium

UConn undergraduate Sam Cutler was awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, through the Spring 2018 call for proposals.  Sam’s research project, entitled “Examining High Redshift Rotation Curve Outside the Local Universe”, will consist of measuring the galactic rotation curve for a distant gravitationally-lensed massive, dusty star-forming galaxy.  With this rotation curve, Sam plans to fit a dark matter density profile and determine the functional form of the profile.  This research will be completed this summer at UConn in the Whitaker Research Group.  Congratulations, Sam!

How do we make the famous Pillars of Creation image?

Pillars of Creation

Ever wonder how the iconic “Pillars of Creation” image was constructed?  Check out this article describing the history of these historic Hubble Space Telescope observations of one of the most well known astrophysical objects in our Universe.  There is a vast amount of post-processing of the images required to create a false-color image that we commonly see in the media.  The Pillars of Creation features a dust-enshrouded stellar nursery, where longer wavelength images enable astronomers to pierce further into the inner workings of these star forming regions.  Compare the black and white images from left (shorter wavelength) to right (longer wavelength) in the above image, can you see the difference?  With the James Webb Space Telescope, sensitive to even longer infrared wavelengths, we will finally got our first real glimpses inside these stellar nurseries!

Launch of the James Webb Space Telescope Delayed until 2020

In a NASA press conference yesterday, it was officially announced that the James Webb Space Telescope launch will be delayed by at least a year until 2020.  With the Cycle 1 proposal deadline only a week away, astronomers around the world were in the thick of proposal preparation when this big news was released.  With the delay in a launch comes the postponement of the looming deadline.  Though there are clear advantages to delaying the proposal deadline, given the delay in the launch, it comes at an awkward time when teams were working full speed ahead.  This article by Sky & Telescope nicely summarizes the news (and also features a few comments made by me!).

UConn Undergraduate Presents Research at 231st American Astronomical Society Meeting

UConn undergraduate physics major Sam Cutler recently presented his research at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.  The conference included roughly 3000 astronomers and was held at the National Harbor in Washington DC from January 8-12, 2018.  Sam presented a poster on his study of the rotation curve of a distant, massive star-forming galaxy that exists when the Universe was only 4 billion years old.  The goal of his research is to use observations to make one of the first measurements of the radial dark matter profile of a galaxy at the peak epoch of star formation.

James Webb Space Telescope Early Release Science Programs Announced!

UConn on the Front Line to Glimpse Farthest Reaches of Universe

The Space Telescope Science Institute had a call for proposals in August 2017, soliciting ideas for the very first observations that the James Webb Space Telescope will take after launch.  With fierce competition, this Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science (DD ERS) program recently selected 13 programs spanning a broad range of astrophysics.

Metivier awarded CT Space Grant Undergraduate Research Fellowship

UConn Physics sophomore, Tyler Metivier, is the recipient of a 2017 Connecticut Space Grant Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Congratulations, Tyler!  His project, “Simulating the Detectability of Tidal Features in the Distant Universe”, will use mock galaxies from high resolution cosmological simulations to quantify how well we can recover tidal disturbances in galaxies undergoing major mergers.  Tyler will test the effects of surface brightness dimming together with telescope resolution and noise properties.  He hopes to make predictions for future space telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope.

UConn Nation joins the Physics Department for Solar Eclipse Viewing Party

On a hot and humid summer afternoon in late August, the Moon eclipsing the Sun was visible across most of the United States. This national event drew record crowds together across the nation, where people far and wide celebrated a beautiful afternoon of science and were left in awe of natural wonders.  With anticipation of several hundred folks from the local community, we were blown away to be joined by thousands from the UConn Nation for our local viewing party.  An estimated 2000 people joined the UConn Department of Physics on Horsebarn Hill and the greater Dairy Bar area, coming together to share the limited number of solar eclipse glasses to get their glimpse of maximum (partial) occultation.  In Storrs CT, the Moon eclipsed 67% of the area of the Sun at 2:45pm.  In addition to the eclipse glasses, we had solar projectors and telescopes setup for the community to use.  The Undergraduate Physics Club organized a pinhole camera activity that was enjoyed by the many young children at the event.  All in all, it was a day to remember!

More information and press coverage of the event can be found in the Hartford CourantMansfield Patch, and the Norwich Bulletin.