Astronomy Colloquia
Astronomy and Astrophysics Colloquia - Usually Wednesdays, 3:30 PM, ERC 161, unless otherwise specified. Reception starts at 4:30 PM in Hubble Lounge; persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please call the departmental secretary in advance at 773-702-8203 or email See also the list of KICP Wednesday Colloquia which alternate with the Astronomy and Astrophysics Colloquia.

Current & Future Astronomy Colloquia
DateTalk TitleSpeaker
May 3, 2017TBAErik Shirokoff, University of Chicago
May 10, 2017Dust polarization and interstellar turbulenceMarc Kamionkowski, Johns Hopkins

Past Astronomy Colloquia
DateTalk TitleSpeaker
April 26, 2017First results from LIGO: past, present and futureNergis Mavalvala, MIT
April 12, 2017Probing Chemical Enrichment in the Circumgalactic Medium -- Combining Absorption Spectroscopy and Direct Imaging ObservationsHsiao-Wen Chen, University of Chicago
March 29, 2017How Black Holes get their Kicks: Dynamical Evolution and CoalescenceSteinn Sigurdsson, Penn State
March 8, 2017Young Star Fundamentals and SurprisesLynne Hillenbrand, Caltech
February 22, 2017Space astrometry: the Hipparcos and Gaia missionsMichael Perryman, Priceton
February 15, 2017Why interstellar grain align and why you should careB-G Andersson, SOFIA Science Center
January 25, 2017The Yin and Yang of Slowly-Pulsating B Stars: Asteroseismology and Angular Momentum RedistributionRichard Townsend, University of Wisconsin-Madison
January 11, 2017Circumgalactic PrecipitationMark Voit, Michigan State University

Circumgalactic Precipitation
January 11, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Mark Voit, Michigan State University

Feedback from a central supermassive black hole is an essential component of galaxy evolution models. Without it, those models cannot produce realistic massive galaxies and galaxy clusters. However, the black-hole feedback mechanism remains mysterious. Somehow, accretion of matter onto the central black hole of a massive galaxy becomes precisely tuned so that it regulates radiative cooling and condensation of gas in a volume many orders of magnitude larger than the black-hole's gravitational zone of influence. I will discuss how the required coupling can arise through condensation and precipitation of cold clouds out of a galaxy's circumgalactic medium, and will show how a feedback mechanism that suspends the circumgalactic medium in a marginally unstable state can regulate star formation within galaxies.

The Yin and Yang of Slowly-Pulsating B Stars: Asteroseismology and Angular Momentum Redistribution
January 25, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Richard Townsend, University of Wisconsin-Madison

During their main-sequence evolution, almost all B-type stars will pass through a phase where they are unstable toward oscillation in one or more global internal gravity waves ('g modes'). The g modes, driven by iron and nickel opacity in the stars' outer envelopes, generate surface temperature and velocity changes with periodicities on the order of days.

In the 'Yin' part of my talk, I'll discuss how time-series spectroscopy and photometry of these `slowly-pulsating B' (SPB) stars can be leveraged into asteroseismology --- probing the stars' interiors by careful analysis of their oscillation spectra. I'll highlight in particular how the Kepler mission, together with the MESA stellar evolution code and my GYRE stellar oscillation code, has allowed novel constraints to be established on the internal rotation and mixing physics of SPB stars.

I'll then pivot to the 'Yang' part of my talk. Although we typically regard stellar oscillations as passive tracers of stellar structure, they can also modify this structure. I'll present recent work by my group exploring angular momentum redistribution by g modes. Modeling this process in SPB stars, we find that significant modification of internal rotation profiles can occur on timescales as short as centuries. This suggests that the g modes can impact the stars' life trajectories, a possibility that's been hitherto ignored in stellar evolution calculations.

Why interstellar grain align and why you should care
February 15, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
B-G Andersson, SOFIA Science Center

More than 70 years after the discovery of interstellar polarization, we now have a quantitative, empirically tested, theory of grain alignment giving ride to the observed effect. This Radiative Alignment Torque (RAT) theory predicts that dust grains are spun up by an anisotropic radiation field, if the wavelength of the light is less than the grain diameter. If the grain is made of a paramagnetic material, it will then align with the magnetic field.

A number of specific, observationally testable, predictions follow from the theory, many of which have already been addressed. With a full testing of the theory and quantification of its parameters, polarimetry has the promise to not only allow efficient and reliable tracing of interstellar and interplanetary magnetic fields, but also to provide new and unique probes of the dust and the interstellar environment.

I will review RAT alignment and its observational testing, and discuss some of the probes of ISM environmental parameters and dust that the verified theory allows.

Space astrometry: the Hipparcos and Gaia missions
February 22, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Michael Perryman, Priceton

Alone amongst the space agencies, ESA made its entry into space astrometry with the adoption of the Hipparcos mission in 1981. Outside of the astrometric community, it was viewed at the time as fundamental if not particularly exciting, although Freeman Dyson described it as "... the first time since Sputnik in 1957 that a major new development in space science has come from outside the US". In his ASP Millennium Essay in 2001, Cavendish Professor Malcolm Longair stated that "It is invidious to single out surveys which I find particularly impressive, but I make an exception for the Hipparcos astrometric satellite".

Hipparcos delivered its high-accuracy catalogue of 120,000 star distances and space motions in 1997. As a follow-up, ESA accepted the Gaia mission in 2000. Launched in 2013 and expected to operate into the next decade, Gaia will represent a revolution in its dynamical stereoscopic mapping of our Galaxy, promising a catalogue of more than a billion stars to 20 magnitude at microarcsec-level accuracy. The talk will provide a short historical context and describe the scientific motivation for these missions, outline the essential experimental principles which underpin their measurements, and give an overview of the science objectives, including Gaia's expected yield of many thousands of astrometrically-detected exoplanets.

The Speaker:
Michael Perryman obtained his PhD in 1980 (Cambridge, UK) and spent most of his subsequent career with the European Space Agency. He was project scientist for Hipparcos from adoption in 1981 to catalogue finalisation in 1997, holding the dual role of overall project manager (1989-1993) after the satellite failed to achieve its nominal geostationary orbit. With Lennart Lindegren (Lund, Sweden) he was the co-originator of Gaia, and responsible for driving many of its principal attributes. He was study scientist from the Gaia's origins in 1995 to mission adoption in 2000, and thereafter ESA project scientist until the Critical Design Review in 2008.

Young Star Fundamentals and Surprises
March 8, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Lynne Hillenbrand, Caltech

Young stars associated with regions of recent star formation are both predictably, and enigmatically, variable over much of the electromagnetic spectrum -- due to processes occurring on the stellar surface, within the disk-to-star accretion zone, in the inner circumstellar disk regions, and perhaps in the outflow. The talk will begin with an overview of the relevant young star phenomena, then proceed to discuss recent work on fundamental stellar parameters for young stars, including several young planet discoveries, and then to the revelations of circumstellar phenomena based on state-of-the-art time domain data sets.

How Black Holes get their Kicks: Dynamical Evolution and Coalescence
March 29, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Steinn Sigurdsson, Penn State

Recent observations have increased interest in the possibilities of a significant population of black hole binaries in the local universe. Natal kicks may play a crucial role in the merger rate of stellar mass black holes. Dynamical evolution can lead to an enhanced interaction rate for compact binaries in dense stellar systems and a distinct and richer population of compact binaries. I discuss some of the issues related to black hole binary formation and coalescence, the issue of retention in globular clusters and possible contribution to the LIGO rate.

Probing Chemical Enrichment in the Circumgalactic Medium -- Combining Absorption Spectroscopy and Direct Imaging Observations
April 12, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Hsiao-Wen Chen, University of Chicago

Tremendous progress has been made over the last decade in our empiricaland theoretical understanding of how galaxies form and evolve across cosmic time. In particular, state-of-the-art cosmological simulations can not only match the large-scale statistical properties of galaxies, but they can also successfully reproduce the observed small-scale features of star-forming disks. However, these models have fallen short in matching the empirical properties of diffuse gas, which constitutes 90% of all baryons in the universe, beyond visible galaxy disks and into circumgalactic space. An accurate characterization of the complex physical processes that govern the interactions between star-forming regions and this diffuse circumgalactic medium (CGM) is a critical next step toward a comprehensive understanding of galaxy formation and evolution. In this talk, I will summarize the progress and challenges in CGM studies from traditional absorption-line observations, and discuss future prospects in direct imaging of the CGM around distant galaxies.

First results from LIGO: past, present and future
April 26, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Nergis Mavalvala, MIT

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves for the first time in 2015. Since then there have been a couple more detections of binary black hole mergers. I will discuss the instruments that made these discoveries, the science so far, and plans for future improvements and upgrades to LIGO.

May 3, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Erik Shirokoff, University of Chicago

Dust polarization and interstellar turbulence
May 10, 2017 | ERC 161 | 3:30 PM
Marc Kamionkowski, Johns Hopkins

Perhaps the most surprising result from the Planck satellite is the observation that the E-mode power in the dust polarization is twice that in the B mode. In this talk I will show how the E and B modes in the dust polarization are related to fluctuations in the magnetized interstellar medium. I will argue that the observed E/B ratio, as well as the TE (temperature-polarization) cross-correlation are not easily reconciled with expectations from MHD turbulence. I will then discuss some alternative explanations for the dust-emission patterns seen in the Planck temperature-polarization maps and outline some interesting directions for future related research.