Talks given by high profile astronomers and scientists.

Friday November 8, 2019
Prof. Andrej Prsa
Villanova University


Most of what we know about the masses and radii of stars comes from the studies of eclipsing binary stars (EBs). As the physical principles that govern the motion are well understood, modelling EB data represents a tractable geometrical problem. The attained accuracy of fundamental parameters is ~2-3% in the best possible cases (Torres et al. 2010), which plays a paramount role in stellar astrophysics: these results are used to calibrate the mass-radius relationship, critically test stellar evolution models, provide fundamental parameters (temperature, luminosity, mass and radius) for stellar and substellar objects across the main sequence, and anchor the distance scale. Given that so much in stellar astrophysics hinges critically on the values derived from EBs, we naturally wonder whether there are any circumstances that would allow us to beat down the uncertainties by another order of magnitude, say to a ~0.2-0.3% level, and thus achieve a 10-fold increase in calibration and gauge reliability. This could be done if the correlations between parameters were somehow reduced, and solution degeneracy somehow broken. If, for example, we had a third star in the system that happens to eclipse the binary, then the shapes of extraneous eclipses in a light curve would constrain the orbital inclination and stellar radii much more than the binary eclipses alone.
In this talk, I will discuss these and similar considerations and show what Kepler, K2 and TESS missions brought to the table.

Thursday October 10, 2019
Prof. Paul Abell


A major goal for NASA's human spaceflight program is to send astronauts to the Moon and beyond in the coming decades. The first missions would focus on exploration of the Moon with the intent of developing the technologies and capabilities to then proceed on to Mars.  

However, there are many objects that show promise as future destinations beyond the Moon, which do not require the extensive mission capabilities or durations required for Mars exploration. These objects are known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and would undoubtedly provide a great deal of technical and engineering data on spacecraft operations for future human space exploration and serve as stepping stones for NASA’s efforts to reach Mars.  A subset of these objects has been identified within the ongoing investigation of the NASA Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study (NHATS).

Information obtained from a human investigation of a NEO, together with ground-based observations and prior spacecraft investigations of asteroids and comets (e.g., Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx), will provide a real measure of ground truth to data obtained from terrestrial meteorite collections.  In addition, robotic precursor and human exploration missions to NEOs would allow NASA and its international partners to gain operational experience in performing complex tasks (e.g., sample collection, deployment of payloads, retrieval of payloads, etc.) with crew, robots, and spacecraft under microgravity conditions at or near the surface of a small body.  This would provide an important synergy between the worldwide Science and Exploration communities, which will be crucial for development of future international deep space exploration architectures and has potential benefits for future exploration of destinations beyond the Earth-Moon system (e.g., Mars).

Thursday October 3, 2019
Prof. Michael Kramer
Director MPI Radioastronomie


We are living in a golden era for testing gravitational physics with precision experiments. This talk will present new results using a variety of tests with radio astronomy, ranging from binary pulsars to imaging black holes in the centre of galaxies. These results will be placed in context of other ongoing experiments, such as detecting gravitational wave with ground-based detectors or pulsar timing arrays, before giving an outlook into the future.

Thursday July 25, 2019
Prof. Mike Barlow
University College London


Until the advent in the late 1990’s of sensitive submillimetre arrays such as SCUBA, it was generally thought that the main sources for the interstellar dust found in galaxies were the dusty outflows from evolved AGB stars and M supergiants, although a dust contribution from supernovae had long been predicted on theoretical grounds. The detection at submillimetre wavelengths of very large dust masses in some high redshift galaxies emitting less than a billion years after the Big Bang led to a more serious consideration of core-collapse supernovae (CCSNe) from massive stars as major dust contributors. KAO and Spitzer mid-infrared observations confirmed that CCSN ejecta could form dust but it was not until the Herschel mission and subsequent ALMA observations that direct evidence has been obtained for the presence of significantly large masses of cold dust in young CCSN remnants. As well as using infrared spectral energy distributions to measure the amounts of dust forming in CCSN ejecta, dust masses can also be quantified from the analysis of red-blue asymmetries in their late-time optical emission line profiles. I will describe current results from these methods for estimating ejecta dust masses, and their implications.

Thursday June 6, 2019
Prof. Jon Marcaide
University of Valencia


Supernova SN1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud offers an unprecedented opportunity to tackle fundamental issues of supernova explosions: dust and molecule formation, interaction with the circumstellar medium, particle acceleration, pulsar formation, etc. Since 2011, instruments like ALMA have been fundamental for such endeavor. Tomographic techniques have recently permitted to obtain 3D-images of the molecular emission. High-resolution images of dust emission have recently been obtained. All those results, compared with predictions from hydro-dynamical simulations, are paving the way to a better understanding of supernovae explosions. In the talk, the main results will be highlighted with emphasis on the advances produced since 2017 in the understanding of the structure of the inner ejecta or debris.

Thursday February 28, 2019
Prof. Alex Fullerton
Space Telescope Science Institute


The growth of astrophysical understanding typically results fromthe constructive interplay between theoretical ideas andobservational insights, with each mode of exploration drivingprogress at different times. The result is invariably a morecomplicated but richer picture of the phenomenon than initiallyenvisaged, as well as deeper appreciation of the behavior ofcomplex systems.In this talk, I will use the development of our understanding ofthe structure of outflows from massive O- and B-type stars toillustrate this collaborative “dance”. Starting from the smooth,spherically symmetric models for radiatively driven windsdeveloped in the late 1960s, our view of these outflows hasevolved to include the growth of inhomogeneities on a variety ofspatial scales. Explanations for the origin of this structure havein turn prompted the realization that non-radiative processesmust also shape the emergence of the wind from the stellarphotosphere. Consequently, O- and B-type stars are morecomplicated – and interesting! – objects than often thought.While many fruitful avenues of research remain to be explored,the current paradigm provides a (mostly) self-consistent pictureof massive stars and their outflows.

Tuesday January 29, 2019
Prof. Roland Bacon
CRAL - Observatoire de Lyon


Thanks to its unique capabilities, the MUSE integral field spectrograph at ESO VLT has given us new insight of the Universe at high redshift. In this talk I will review some breakthrough in the observation of the Hubble Ultra Deep field with MUSE including the discovery of a new population of faint galaxies without HST counterpart in the UDF and the ubiquitous presence of extended Lyman-alpha haloes around galaxies.

Thursday November 15, 2018
Dr. A. P. Hatzes
Thuringia State Observatory


In 1988 I joined the quest find exoplanets with the radial velocity method. At the time, exoplanet research was virtually unknown, and no extra-solar planets had been discovered. Since then, we have discovered several thousand extra-solar planets found mostly via the radial velocity and transit methods.

Planets with masses as low as the Earth and even in the habitable zone of low mass stars have been detected. We have also taken the first steps to characterize these new worlds in terms of their masses, radii, densities, internal structure and atmospheric composition. This was unforeseen thirty years ago. In my talk I will review the expectations we had when we first started searching for extra-solar planet, he surprises along the way, and what to expect in the future from extra-solar planet research.

Wednesday July 18, 2018
Vanessa Hill


Understanding formation and evolution of galaxies on the galactic and sub-galactic scales is a key question to modern astrophysics. The L-CDM concordant cosmology paradygm, sucessful in predicting many large scale observables of the Universe, starts to fail at the galactic or sub-galactic scales (e.g., missing satellites problems, planes of satellites, central dark matter density profiles of galaxies, etc.). The Milky Way, with its system of dwarf galaxy satelites, is the environment in which we can hope to constrain in most details the physical processes that play a role in the formation and evolution of galaxies, encoded in the location, kinematics and chemistry of individual stars, a field often referred to as Galactic Archaeology. Taking the example of the Sculptor dwarf galaxy, for which a wealth of complementary data are available, from wide field photometry to sizeable spectroscopic samples, and now also astrometric Gaia data, I will discuss our current observational understanding of how chemical enrichment proceeds at the smalest scales. 

In the context of the Gaia space mission and ground based large spectroscopic surveys such as WEAVE@WHT,  Galactic Archaeology, is living a revolution. I will review some of the most prominent science cases for a Galactic Archaeology survey with the WEAVE wide field multi-object facility for the WHT, and highlight how this complements the Gaia astrometric mission. 

Thursday June 14, 2018
Prof. Mark Rast
University of Colorado


Turbulent convection in stellar envelopes is critical to heat transport and dynamo activity. Modeling it well has proven surprisingly difficult, and recent solar and stellar observations have raised questions about our understanding of the dynamics of both the deep solar convection and the mean structure of the upper layers of convective stellar envelopes.  In particular, the amplitude of low wavenumber convective motions in both local area radiative magnetohydrodynamic and global spherical shell magnetohydrodynamic simulations of the Sun appear to be too high. In global simulations this results in weaker than needed rotational constraint and consequent non solar-like differential rotation profiles. In deep local area simulations it yields strong horizontal flows in the photosphere on scales much larger than the observed supergranulation, leaving the origin of the solar supergranular scale enigmatic. The problem is not confined to the Sun. When comparing computed oscillation frequencies to observations, mixing length models of stellar convection show too sharp a transition to the interior adiabatic gradient. This contributes to what asteroseismologists call the `surface effect' correction.

 We suggest that there is a common solution to these problems: convective motions in stellar envelopes are even more nonlocal than numerical models suggest. Small scale photospherically driven motions dominate convective transport even at depth, descending through a very nearly adiabatic or possible even somewhat subadiabatic deep convection zone. Convection of this form may meet Rossby number constraints set by global scale motions, and implies that the solar supergranulation is the largest buoyantly driven scale of motion in the Sun. We test this hypothesis using a suite of three-dimensional stellar atmosphere models, and can use it to both recover their mean stratification and estimate the supergranular scale on other stars