The Hubble Space Telescope was launched 25 years ago. I attended a celebratory dinner at the American Visionary Art Museum, as part of the annual meeting of member-representatives of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). Dinner was enjoyable for many reasons, among them the opportunity to view a new artwork called “Heaven’s Carousel” by Tim Otto Roth (see photo). This work was inspired by the discovery of the expanding — and accelerating — universe. It was also interesting to hear the honorable (and formidable) Sen. Barbara Mikulski speak in person about her passion for the Hubble Space Telescope.
I recently had the good fortune of being the “study leader” of a group tour of Hawaii, organized by the MIT Alumni Association. We visited the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea, watched mother and baby humpback whales off the coast of Maui, and hiked in Volcano National Park, among other adventures. The participants were all fascinating, friendly, and curious people. My three evening lectures were on telescopes, exoplanets, and cosmology. I hope to have more of these opportunities in the future!
Roberto has won the 2014 Sergio Vazquez prize, awarded by the MIT physics department “for his outstanding contributions to exoplanetary and his great potential for continued success.” Earlier this week, Roberto also gave an excellent and well-received lecture here in Porto, Portgual, at a meeting entitled “Toward Other Earths.”
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!