Astrophysics Research

 

Areas of Research

Astrophysics, Space and Planetary Physics (Experimental)

Experimental astrophysics research at MIT spans a huge range in scales, from black holes and planets to the largest structures in the universe. Broadly, this research can be classified into three topics:

  • Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: This includes the search for the epoch of reionization (Hewitt) and the first generation of stars (Frebel), the study of structure formation on the scales of galaxies (Simcoe), clusters of galaxies (McDonaldCanizares), and the cosmic web (Masui). Experimental astrophyscists working in this field use telescopes at all wavelengths, with a focus on radio (CHIME, South Pole Telescope, HERA), optical (Magellan Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope), and X-ray (Chandra X-ray Observatory).
  • Compact Objects and Gravitational Radiation: This includes the study of compact objects ranging in scale from neutron stars and low mass black holes (Chakrabarty, Kara) to supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies (CanizaresSimcoeMcDonald). Much of the observational work is enabled by X-ray telescopes such as Chandra and NICER, which are hosted at MIT. The recent success of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) has allowed a new window into the compact object Universe, allowing the study of merging neutron stars and black holes through gravitational radiation (EvansVitaleMavalvala).
  • Exoplanets and the Solar System: This includes the study of stellar systems ranging from our sun and its neighborhood (Belcher) to stars and planets outside of our solar system (Seager). As the home to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), astronomers at MIT are discovering hundreds of new planets every year, which are followed up using observatories such as the Magellan Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, or the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. Within our solar system, observations from satellites like Voyager are still providing valuable information about the heliosphere and astrophysical plasmas.

Experimental Astrophysics at MIT is a division of the physics department, and operates within the MIT Kavli Institute (MKI). Please visit the MKI research pages for more information about astrophysics at MIT.

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Theoretical Astrophysics

Theoretical astrophysics research at MIT combines analytic theory and numerical simulations to understand the Universe on scales from the event horizon of a black hole to the largest structures in the Universe. Active research in theoretical astrophysics includes:

  • Strong Gravity and Gravitational Radiation: Astrophysics theory at MIT has a significant focus on the strong gravity regime, studying the detailed, complicated, and often non-linear physics around main sequence stars, neutron stars, and black holes. Of particular interest of late is the prediction of gravitational radiation from a variety of compact object mergers, and using the signals detected by LIGO to perform tests of general relativity (HughesVitale). This research involves a mix of pen and paper theory coupled with modern numerical simulations.
  • Cosmology and the Growth of Structure: MIT astrophysicists have a history of major contributions to our understanding of the early conditions in the Universe and the subsequent growth of structure. Significant contributions were made at MIT to the development of analytic theory concerning the growth of structure (BertschingerSchechter) along with pioneering work on utilizing the distribution of matter in the Universe to constrain the cosmological initial conditions (Tegmark). Modern theoretical astrophysics at MIT relies heavily on numerical simulations: the Illustris/IllustrisTNG simulations (Vogelsberger), in particular, attempt to replicate the final distribution of stars and galaxies in the Universe based on a set of initial conditions and an ever-more-complete description of the relevant physics.

Theoretical Astrophysics at MIT is a division of the physics department, and operates within the MIT Kavli Institute (MKI). Please visit the MKI research pages for more information about astrophysics at MIT.

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