BU Astronomy Alumnus Paul Dalba awarded the prestigious 51 Pegasi b Fellowship

By ereynoldApril 6th, 2022in Dalba, Muirhead

Recent BU Astronomy Alumnus Paul Dalba (GRS PhD '18, advisor Prof. Muirhead) has been awarded the prestigious 51 Pegasi b Fellowship.

"The Heising-Simons Foundation is pleased to announce this year's 51 Pegasi b Fellowship recipients. The eight early-career scientists were selected based on their outstanding research achievements, innovative research plans, and potential to impact the field of planetary astronomy.

Launched by the foundation in 2017, the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship provides exceptional early-career scientists with the opportunity to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental research in planetary astronomy. Each recipient will receive a three-year grant of up to $385,000 to pursue their proposed research at their selected host institution"

Paul will be hosted by the University of California, Santa Cruz.

More information is here:

Congratulations, Paul!

BU Research – The First Black Hole Image Is Here

By Mary GordonApril 10th, 2019in Jorstad, Marscher
The first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87 (M87) and its shadow. The shadow of the black hole seen here is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, a completely dark object from which light cannot escape. Photo courtesy of EHT

In a recent article from BU Today, IAR's Professor Alan Marscher and Senior Research Scientist Svetlana Jorstad discuss the first image of a black hole captured through a collaboration of more than 200 other scientists from around the globe known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration.

"Because black holes have so much mass that their gravitational forces absorb all light particles, they have, until now, been completely undetectable against the vast, dark backdrop of space. So, how do you see something totally invisible? Marscher, Jorstad, and more than 200 other scientists from all over the world, known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, had to analyze literal boatloads of data collected from multiple telescopic locations. Their findings and the first black hole image from EHT were published in a series of six papers in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on April 10, 2019.

Collecting data from eight radio telescopes in different remote locations around the world, the EHT collaborators essentially created a planet-size telescope. This technique allowed them to achieve a telescopic resolution powerful enough to read a newspaper in New York from a sidewalk café in Paris. The telescopic network’s power is capable of cutting through the cosmic haze to magnify the EHT team’s namesake, a boundary known as the event horizon, the final point beyond which no light or anything else can escape from a black hole’s maws.

For the last several years, EHT has been working to image two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A*, located in the center of the Milky Way, and one in the center of Messier 87 (M87), a galaxy in the constellation Virgo. That far-away region in M87, located 55 million light years from Earth, is where scientists from EHT succeeded in taking the only direct image of a supermassive black hole and its surroundings ever before captured."

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Boston Globe – His Holy Grail would be detecting life on another planet

By Ian MallardJune 8th, 2018in Muirhead

In a recent article from The Boston Globe, IAR's Assistant Professor Philip Muirhead discusses the reasoning for his work and what his 'Holy Grail' would be: finding evidence that we are not alone in the universe.

Credit: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe

"The more we learn about the universe, the more alone it feels. In our evolution from an earth-centered universe, to a sun-centered universe, to a universe with no center and vast amounts of space in between stars and galaxies, it can feel more and more alone. The discovery of life on another planet would change context dramatically. Science fiction writer Arthur Clarke said, ‘Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine — it is stranger than we can imagine.’ There will be more discoveries within our lifetime, and who knows what they will indicate? Maybe life on another planet or something else, but we have to approach [it] with an open mind, imagination, and with scientific rigor."

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The Daily Free Press– BU team joins NASA in the search for earth-like planets

By Mary GordonApril 19th, 2018in Muirhead

In a recent article from The Daily Free Press, IAR's Assistant Professor Philip Muirhead discusses his group's work assembling a list of red dwarf planets for the new NASA satellite, TESS, to explore with Lillian Ilsley-Greene.

'Just under three years ago, Philip Muirhead, an astronomy professor at BU, was asked to assemble a team to identify nearby red dwarf stars for NASA’s latest satellite to orbit. His team was composed of undergraduate and graduate students, other professors, and astronomers from across the world.

TESS’s mission is to find 50 terrestrial Earth-like planets, as opposed to gas planets, around nearby red dwarf stars and sun-like stars, Muirhead said. NASA’s previous Kepler mission found many of these planets, but they were too far away to study in great detail.

“The goal here is to find planets that are more like Earth, Venus, Mars and Mercury,” Muirhead said. “… TESS is really a hunting mission.”'

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BU Research- Wanted: Red Dwarfs for TESS Mission

By Mary GordonApril 12th, 2018in Muirhead

In a recent article from BU Research, IAR's Assistant Professor Philip Muirhead discusses what the latest landing on Mars, InSight, could teach us with Doug Most.

“Red dwarf stars are much cooler and fainter than the sun; the sun is ten times brighter than even the brightest red dwarfs (which are actually almost yellow), and about ten thousand times brighter than the dimmest, ruby-red ones. Gaze up at the stars without binoculars or a telescope, and you won’t see a single red dwarf—they are that faint. Yet red dwarfs are actually the galactic norm, making up about 70% of all stars, says Philip Muirhead, BU assistant professor of astronomy.

Muirhead is something of a red dwarf aficionado. He specializes in pinning down the true mass, size, and age of these faint stars. So, soon after TESS got the go-ahead from NASA, mission scientists reached out to Muirhead and his team for help assembling a list of red dwarfs to target with the new spacecraft. The TESS scientists wanted to take aim at as many as 50,000 nearby red dwarfs. But, among all the rich star catalogs that modern astronomy has produced, there was no index of local cool dwarf stars, which are so faint that they often get overlooked.”

BU assistant professor of astronomy Phil Muirhead. Muirhead and his team assembled a catalog of red dwarf stars; the TESS spacecraft will study these stars—in particular, 70,000 of them—in the search for exoplanets. Photo by Michael D. Spencer

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BU Today– Searching for Life around the Stars

By Mary GordonOctober 25th, 2017in Veyette
Is there life out there? Mark Veyette studies the most common star type in our solar system for clues. Photo by Cydney Scott

In a recent article from BU Today, IAR graduate student Mark Veyette discusses running computer models of M dwarfs through the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, MA and his research with Rich Barlow.

'To the epic search for life on other planets, Mark Veyette brings some of science’s most formidable technology: 300-pound infrared telescopes in Hawaii. The supercomputer center BU helped create in Holyoke, Mass.

And his cell phone.

Explanation to come about how that last one aids Veyette’s research into M dwarf stars, the most common star type in our galaxy. M dwarfs are smaller, cooler, and fainter than the sun, and Veyette (GRS’15,’19) is trying to determine their chemical composition and that of their atmospheres. This, in turn, could shed light on the composition of the dwarfs’ orbiting planets—hinting at whether those planets could sustain life.'

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BU Research – Night Shift: Liu Astronomical Observing Center gives astronomers local access to telescopes worldwide

By Mary GordonAugust 10th, 2017in Muirhead

Kate Becker of the BU Research team joins IAR graduate student Paul Dalba, Assistant Professor Phil Muirhead, and Astronomy major Sheila Sagear in the new Liu Astronomical Observing Center.

Philip Muirhead, assistant professor of astronomy, and astronomy major Sheila Sagear (CAS’20) in the Liu Astronomical Observing Center. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

'Modern astronomy looks a lot different from its popular depiction. Instead of squinting into a telescope eyepiece beneath a creaky old dome, today’s astronomers work at computers, scanning data coming in from sensitive cameras that sit at the tail end of the telescope’s optical system. This is fly-by-wire astronomy, and while it may lack some of the romance of the old way, it opens up the possibility of “remote observing”—that is, using a telescope while sitting hundreds or even thousands of miles away. For more than a decade, taking advantage of high-speed internet and computerized telescope control, astronomers have increasingly been choosing to observe from afar, sparing the expense and hassle of far-flung travel.

Thanks to a special partnership, BU observers typically get about 40 nights each year on the DCT, which is run by the Lowell Observatory, and a growing share of that research is done remotely. But until 2015, BU lacked a dedicated space for remote observing—astronomers typically ran the telescope from their office computers or even from home.'

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Boston Today – Science Club for Girls Takes STEM to the Next Generation

By Ian MallardMarch 31st, 2017in Kesseli

Covered in the latest BU Today article, the BU Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (including IAR's own Aurora Kesseli) met with third-grade girls to foster a love for science.

'On this Thursday, eight-year-old Amaria Smith works next to Kesseli, an astronomy doctoral candidate, coloring multiple discs so she can see different shapes through her kaleidoscope. Amaria, a third grader at the Jackson/Mann K-8 School in Allston, has been coming to Girls Science Club for a couple of years. She’s one of the first to shout out the answers about how light bends and what happens when you shine it into a mirror.

Her favorite experiment was one that used Jell-O, she explains to a visitor. The girls built sturdy structures with toothpicks, then mimicked an earthquake. Amaria found out that triangles are the best shape.'

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The Daily Free Press – TRAPPIST-1 discovery holds promise for BU astronomers

By Ian MallardMarch 3rd, 2017in Kesseli, Muirhead, Skinner, Veyette

Philip Muirhead, Julie Skinner, Mark Veyette, and Aurora Kesseli spoke to The Daily Free Press this week about their research team focused on finding habitable planets with space telescopes.

'“The problem with telescopes on the ground is that you get interrupted when you’re observing because the sun is coming up,” Muirhead said. “You can’t operate those during the day because the sky is very bright. With the space telescope, you don’t have to deal with the problem of the sun rising — you can just stare at a star for a very long time without any interruption. Because of that fact, they were able to stare at that star for 20 days, and they discovered four additional planets.”


Looking to the future, Muirhead said he is hopeful for the discovery of more systems just as monumental as TRAPPIST-1.'

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USA TODAY – Newly discovered network of planets could harbor water and life, scientists say

By Ian MallardFebruary 23rd, 2017in Muirhead

This week, USA TODAY spoke to many astronomy professors, including BU's Philip Muirhead, about the recent discovery of a cluster of seven potentially habitable planets.

'The new herd of planets circles a tiny dim bulb of a star called TRAPPIST-1, which shares its name with the Belgian-operated telescope that discovered some of the planets...

“Of all the planets we’ve found, this has risen to the top as the most exciting (for) the potential of studying habitability,” says Boston University’s Philip Muirhead, who was not involved with the study.'

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