Highlights from a Decade of Space Asteroseismology

Prof. Conny Aerts


After a basic introduction into asteroseismology for the non-expert, we emphasize how to achieve practical applications of the technique based on uninterrupted high-precision data from space. We show how series of detected and identified oscillation modes allow to deduce details of the interior physics of stars that are impossible to unravel in any other way. We highlight the most recent findings on the interior rotation and chemical mixing of stars with a convective core and illustrate how these affect stellar evolution theory. We reveal the power of combining Gaia and asteroseismic data for stellar physics, galactic archeology, and exoplanet studies. Finally, we provide an outlook for future projects in asteroseismology to illustrate the bright future of this research domain.

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Highlights from a Decade of Space Asteroseismology
Prof. Conny Aerts
KU Leuven
Thursday February 9, 2017 - 10:30  (Aula)
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Conny Aerts

Instituut voor Sterrenkunde

Celestijnenlaan 200D bus 2401

3001 Leuven, Belgium

Conny Aerts graduated as mathematician from Antwerp University in 1988 and defended her PhD thesis in astrophysics at the University of Leuven in 1993. Through competitive personal grants, she continued her career as postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders from 1993 until 2001, performing numerous stays abroad in Europe, Chile and the USA. She was appointed as Lecturer (2001), as Associate Professor (2004) and subsequently as Full professor (2007) at the University of Leuven. Since 2004, she also leads the Chair in Asteroseismology at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Conny's research expertise covers stellar physics, including stellar structure and evolution, as well as variable stars. She is one of the pioneers of the research domain of asteroseismology, which received a major boost since the MOST (2003), CoRoT (2006), and Kepler (2009) space missions became operational. Prior to the era of high-precision space photometry, Conny focused on time-series high-precision spectroscopy, developing rigorous mathematical methods to detect and identify non-radial pulsation modes in optically bright stars.  Mining of large databases is another key expertise Conny's team developed, with the design and application of statistical classification methods based on multivariate Gaussian mixtures.  This led to the discovery and interpretation of numerous gravity-mode pulsators in the Hipparcos, CoRoT, and Kepler databases.  Along with her appointment as Chair in Asteroseismology at the Radboud University Nijmegen in 2004, Conny introduced herself into the topic of subdwarf stars and their binarity and pulsations.

In 2008, Conny was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant, PROSPERITY to evaluate stellar evolution models with unprecedented probing power. This was achieved by exploiting the huge amount of high-precision data from CoRoT and Kepler. Throughout the years, her PhD students made major contributions to the field, such as the discovery of non-radial pulsation modes, of dipole mixed modes, and of non-rigid rotation in red giant stars, following earlier detections of core overshooting and core rotation in massive stars.  The successes of PROSPERITY culminated in the 2012 Francqui Prize, also termed Belgian Nobel Prize, where Conny was the first woman to receive this highly prestigious award in the category of Exact Sciences since its creation in 1933. Recently, the ERC offered her a 2nd AdG, MAMSIE (Mixing and Angular Momentum tranSport in massIvE Stars, 2016-2020) to bridge stellar physics and 3D hydrodynamics with the aim to remedy major shortcomings in stellar evolution theory of massive stars. 

Until 2016, Conny was the supervisor of 42 Master thesis students, of 23 graduated PhD students, and of 14 externally recruited postdocs. She took part in more than 50 PhD examination committees. Since 2001, she has been teaching numerous courses in the Master Astronomy & Astrophysics at Leuven and Nijmegen universities and she also led various training courses on gender-related, mentor-mentee and science communication & outreach topics.  Finally, Conny is member of numerous international expert committees and advisory boards worldwide. As Belgian PI, she is presently heavily involved in the preparation of the approved ESA M3 space mission PLATO (launch 2025).

Conny is married and mother of two children, born in 1994 and 1998. When not working and not with her children, you can find her jogging, dining in fancy restaurants, @the movies, @the sauna or sipping champagne among friends.