Kat Deck was one of two recipients of the 2014 Eric Keto prize for the best thesis in theoretical astrophysics by a student working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Her thesis was entitled "The orbital dynamics and long-term stability of planetary systems” and includes the discovery of a two-planet system in which the planetary orbits are likely to be misaligned by ≈20°.
Ashley Villar won the MIT Physics Department’s Orloff award for service, in recognition of her leadership of the Undergraduate Women in Physics, and her participation in the Educational Studies Program, PhysEx, MITx, and other outreach programs.
Congratulations, Kat and Ashley!
Last month, I recorded a pilot lecture for the Great Courses. If market testing goes well, we may produce a 24-lecture course about exoplanets. I am excited about this possibility because I love teaching, I love exoplanets, and I have been an avid customer of the Great Courses since 2008. I’ve listened to nearly all of Robert Greenberg’s courses on music, and I am working my way through all of the history and religion courses. Here is a link to the 30-minute pilot lecture entitled Strange New Worlds.
During the academic year 2013/4, I have been on sabbatical at the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. One of my projects is an investigation of mass loss by astronomers. Based on data obtained over the last few years (see chart below), I find strong support for a sabbatical-induced effect, with an ingress timescale of ~6 months and depth of at least 33% or 0.44 mag. (The single outlier from the trend is easily explained as a consequence of dinner at the DaDong Roasted Duck Restaurant in Beijing.)
On Friday, Roberto successfully defended his thesis, "Investigations of close-in exoplanets: starspot transits, and ultra-short-period planets." We celebrated with cake and cava from Barcelona. In keeping with our sacred M.I.T. astrophysics traditions, Roberto has signed one of the bottles and is seen here placing it on the Shelf of Honor. Congratulations Roberto!
Amaury Triaud has been awarded the 2014 MERAC Prize for the Best Doctoral Thesis in Observational Astrophysics. Congratulations to Amaury on this extraordinary honor!
Roberto and Kat both fared extremely well in this year's competition for prestigious postdoctoral fellowships. Roberto earned a NASA Sagan Fellowship, which he will take to U.C. Berkeley. Kat will go to Caltech as a Planetary Astronomy Fellow. Congratulations to both!
I had the privilege of being the guest presenter in the February edition of the MIT Alumni Association's Faculty Forum Online. The topic was "Exploring the Strange New Worlds of Exoplanets". You can watch the archived video here, or below.
Kevin Schlaufman has won an Infinite Kilometer award. This $1000 prize from the M.I.T. School of Science recognizes "the outstanding contributions that some of our postdoctoral researchers make to M.I.T…. exceptional contributors to their research programs, who are also deeply committed to their local or global M.I.T. community, as evidenced by involvement in mentoring and advising their junior colleagues, participating in our educational programs, ... or contributing to some other facet of the MIT community." Congratulations Kevin!
Simon Albrecht will soon be leaving to become an Associate Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark. We celebrated the 3.5 years of his productive and enjoyable stay at M.I.T. with a group dinner at the Winn home. We will miss Simon. On the other hand, we may now look forward to interesting collaborations with members of the Stellar Astrophysics Centre at Aarhus. We wish Simon all the best!
Four members of our group will be speaking at today's session of the Kepler Science Conference II, in Mountain View, California. First, Kat Deck will describe her discovery of a planetary system with at least two planets on strongly misaligned orbits. Then, Simon Albrecht will review our measurements of the obliquities of the host stars of planetary systems. After lunch, Kevin Schlaufman will share his work on testing in situ models for the formation of compact multiplanet systems, employing the strong correlation between giant planet prevalence and host star metallicity. Finally, just before dinner, Roberto Sanchis-Ojeda will present our survey for very short-period planets in the Kepler database. This survey was already widely discussed yesterday, following talks by Andrew Howard and Christophe Lovis about Kepler-78, one of the most interesting planets that has turned up so far.