Dr. Michael Fausnaugh

Research Scientist/ 
TESS Pipeline Scientist


I am a researcher at the MIT Kavli Institute, working on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).  I am especially interested in time domain astronomy and potential uses of TESS for extragalactic astrophysics.

I earned my PhD in Astronomy from the Ohio State University.
My thesis work was focused on the continuum emission in Active Galactic Nuclei.

I did my undergraduate work at St. John's College in Sante Fe, NM, which is known for its unique great books program.


Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
I am working with the TESS mission to discover small exoplanets around nearby bright stars.  I will also use TESS to study extragalactic transient phenomena, such as supernovae, tidal disruption events, and exceptional AGN activity.

Active Galactic Nuclei
I use the "reverberation mapping" technique to explore the interior structures of active galactic nuclei (AGN).

AGN are too distant to be resolved with direct imaging. Instead, I search for variable flux signals and their corresponding "light echoes"—the echoes encode information about the AGN interior. The videos below discuss this in more detail.

Super Massive Black Hole Environments
The AGN phenomenon is interpreted as actively growing (accreting) super-massive black holes. My dissertation research was devoted to understanding the black hole's environment, in particular, the accretion flow and surrounding "broad line region."

Cepheid Variables
My introduction to time-domain astronomy was a search for new Cepheid stars in NGC 4258, a mega-maser galaxy used to anchor the extra-galactic distance scale.

I am also working on a program to obtain precise Cepheid distances to the nearest AGN, which have distances uncertain by factors of 2 or more.


Five New Black Hole Masses

Reverberation Mapping of Optical Emission Lines in Five Active Galaxies
Fausnaugh et al. 2017
ApJ, 840:97


A New Approach to the Internal Calibration of Reverberation Mapping Spectra
Fausnaugh 2017
Check out the code on github
PASP, 129, 024007


Space Telescope and Optical Reverberation Mapping Project. III. Optical Continuum Emission and Broad-Band Time Delays in NGC 5548
Fausnaugh et al. 2016
ApJ, 821:56

Cepheids in NGC 4258

The Cepheid Distance to the Maser-Host Galaxy NGC 4258:
Studying Systematics with the
Large Binocular Telescope
Fausnaugh et al. 2015
MNRAS, 450:3597

Complete Paper List from ADS

Link to Full CV


Ph.D., The Ohio State University
Astronomy and Astrophysics
Advisor: Prof. Bradley Peterson

  • 2017 OSU Hayes Research Forum, 2nd place Oral Presentation
  • OSU Markowitz Award for Excellence in Observational Astronomy, 2016-17
  • Presidential Fellow, May 2016—May 2017

May 2017
Columbus, OH

M.S., The Ohio State University
Astronomy and Astrophysics

December 2014
Columbus, OH

ARIEL Internship, Adler Planetarium
γ–ray Astronomy
Awarded and funded by St. John's College

June 2011 — February 2012
Chicago, IL

B.A., St. John's College
Liberal Arts
History of Math and Science
Honors Thesis: "Simplicity and Certainty: Standards of Truth in Newton's Principia and Beyond"

  • Sustained Academic Excellence, May 2011
  • ARIEL Internship, Summer 2011

August 2007— May 2011
Santa Fe, NM


OSU Planetarium
I helped write and develop several shows for the OSU planetarium:

  • 2013: OSU Planetarium Grand Reopening, The Sky Tonight.
  • 2014: Journey through the Solar System.
  • 2015: The Autumn Sky: Hidden Treasures.
I also presented over 100 planetarium shows between 2013 and 2016, averaging 2-4 shows per month.

Autumn 2013– Autumn 2016

Graduate Teaching Associate, The Ohio State University
Graded exams, designed/hosted review sessions.
Astronomy 2291: Introduction to Astronomy and Planets
  (Calculus-based, for astronomy majors)
Astronomy 1161: Introduction to Astronomy and the Solar System

August 2012– May 2013

Space Visualization Lab Volunteer, Adler Planetarium
Delivered weekly presentations, hosted public question/answer sessions.

July 2011– December 2011

Head Laboratory Assistant, St. John's College
Demonstrated/guided practica and developed/documented procedures in the senior-year laboratory.

August 2010– May 2011

Laboratory Assistant, St. John's College
Demonstrated/guided practica in the junior-year laboratory.

August 2009– May 2010


faus /*at~\ mit /~dot*\ edu            

77 Massachusetts Avenue, 37-535
Cambridge, Ma 02139 

617 - 324 - 6404