MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

IAP 2012 Activities



Lecture Series:

Frontiers of Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Space Science

A series of lectures aimed at freshmen non-physics majors highlighting the latest discoveries about the nature of our universe and the potential for dramatic advances in the coming decade.  Tour the MIT labs where the next generation of cutting-edge telescopes and instruments are being developed, and get a sneak preview of tomorrow's headlines in astronomy, astrophysics, and space science.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up for the lectures
Limited enrollment,  advance sign up required for the lab tours (see below)
Participants welcome at individual sessions (series)
Prereq: None

All lectures will be held in 37-252; tours of the labs will depart from 37-252 following the lectures.

Campus map showing location of Building 37


Contact:

Dr. Norbert S. Schulz
NE80-6075, 258-5767
nss@space.mit.edu




Session 1:  Thursday, Jan 12
3:00-4:00pm

37-252
Observing the Violent Universe with the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Professor Claude Canizares (MIT)

The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched into orbit 12 years ago by the Space Shuttle Columbia. Like the Hubble telescope, Chandra is one of NASA's premier space astronomy facilities. But while Hubble detects visible light, Chandra measures X-rays. This high energy radiation reveals some of the most energetic and explosive events in the cosmos, including black holes, quasars, and supernovae. This talk will describe the technology that made Chandra possible, much of it developed at MIT, and sample some scientific results about the violent universe.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up

Session 2:  Tuesday, Jan 17
2:00-2:30pm

37-252
Imaging Relativistic Outflows from Quasars using the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Dr. Herman L. Marshall (MIT)

One of the first discoveries made with the Chandra X-ray Observatory was finding very strong X-ray emission from quasar jets, millions of light years from the central black holes. Jets are highly focused outflows of magnetized plasma that are moving at nearly the speed of light on a scale of light years from the supermassive black holes that inhabit the cores of many active galaxies and their bright counterparts, the quasars. The jet can transport a huge fraction of the total energy liberated by matter infalling onto the black hole out into intergalactic space. With Chandra images of the X-rays from jets, we infer that the flow is still highly relativistic even as the plasma exits the host galaxy's gravitational influence.

Jets from the Black Hole in Centaurus A




Jets from the Black Hole in Centaurus A

Credit: NASA/CXC/CfA







No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
2:30-3:00pm

37-252
New Visions of the Center of Our Galaxy

Dr. Frederick Baganoff (MIT)

A new generation of telescopes and instruments have revealed the core of our galaxy, the Milky Way, in spectacular detail.   On the smallest scales, ground-based infrared telescopes -- using adaptive optics to correct for atmospheric distortion -- have traced the path of a star that passed within just 17 light-hours or 11 billion miles of the dark massive object at the dynamical center of the galaxy.   An analysis of the star's motion indicates that the dark object has a mass of about 3.7 millions suns, and provides the strongest evidence to date for the existence of a supermassive black hole.   X-ray observations from space have detected massive flares from just outside the event horizon of the black hole.   Observatories around the world are trying to monitor these flares across the electromagnetic spectrum to measure the physical properties of the hot, highly magnetized plasma on which the black hole feeds.  On larger scales, the new observations have revealed fantastic images of the interactions between giant molecular clouds, expanding supernova blast waves, and stellar winds from clusters of hot young stars that are frantically blowing off their outer  atmospheres.  These new data are raising a host of new questions about the structure and evolution of our galaxy.


 Galactic Center






Image of the central regions of the Milky Way
taken with NASA's
Great Observatories

Credit: NASA/CXC/MIT F. Baganoff et al.







No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
3:15-4:15pm

37-252
Tour of the Operations Control Center for the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Dr. Norbert S. Schulz (MIT)

The Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope, allowing scientists to study the origin, structure and evolution of our universe in greater detail than ever before.   The spacecraft and science instruments are controlled from the Operations Control Center (OCC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   We will take our visitors on a tour of the OCC and show where scientists and engineers direct the flight and execute the observing plan of Chandra, and where they receive the scientific data from the observatory.    During the tour the visitors will learn about the basics of X-ray astronomy and about the latest, exciting discoveries made by MIT scientists with data acquired with Chandra.

Enrollment Limit: 20 persons,  advance sign up required;  Contact Dr. Norbert S. Schulz

Session 3:  Wednesday, Jan 18
2:00-2:30pm

37-252
Revealing Titan's Secrets

Dr. Peter Ford (MIT)

Surrounded by a deep atmosphere, methane clouds, and hydrocarbon hazes, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has long resisted our attempts to understand its present conditions and past history. With the arrival of the Cassini orbiter and Huygens probe in 2004, a variety of instruments have observed Titan at many wavelengths, revealing a body that bears many similarities to Earth: rivers, lakes, rain, dunes, and a surface that is one of the youngest in the solar system. This talk will concentrate on recent attempts to answer some of the most baffling questions about this giant moon: how, why, and when did it form, and from what materials? is there an ocean hidden deep beneath its surface? and why do the dunes point in the "wrong" direction?




Titan's Sotra Facula: a possible ice volcano

Credit: NASA/JPL



No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
2:30-3:00pm

37-252
ExoPlanets

Dr. Simon Albrecht (MIT)

In this talk, I will discuss the current knowledge we have about planets orbiting stars other than our sun: Exoplanets. I will briefly review the rapid development of this young field over the last few years, in which it has moved from single planet detections towards statistical studies of hundreds of planets, and very detailed studies of particular systems. Finally, I will highlight some work done here at MIT and recent detections of exotic exoplanet systems using a new space based observatory.

Artist Impression of Planetary Dust Ring




Artist Impression of Planetary Dust Ring

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech





No enrollment limit, no advance sign up


Session 4:  Friday, Jan 20
2:00-2:30pm

37-252
Black Holes Lurking Across the Milky Way

Dr. Michael Nowak (MIT)

It was in 1967 episode (or stardate 3113.2) that Capt. Kirk and the Enterprise encountered an "uncharted black sun", and were hurled backwards in time. In the intervening 45 years, black holes have gone from things of science fiction to (nearly undisputed) scientific fact. This has been in large part thanks to a series of X-ray satellite missions which have discovered the emissions of hot gas plunging into and/or being expelled from the deep gravitational potential well of the black hole. In this talk I will highlight the discoveries we have made about black holes in our own Galaxy. I will describe how we have gone from merely discovering black holes to now attempting to study them in sufficient detail to determine whether or not the bending of spacetime close to the black hole predicted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity is actually occurring.

Stellar Mass Black Hole

A Stellar Mass Black Hole in the Milky Way.

Credit: www.outerspaceuniverse.com

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
2:30-3:00pm

37-252
Superwinds in Accreting Black Hole Binaries

Dr. Joseph Neilsen (MIT)

Although black holes are often thought of as cosmic vacuum cleaners, consuming everything nearby (even light), the feeding process for astrophysical black holes is much more complicated. Accretion releases prodigious quantities of energy, which can actually drive infalling gas away from the black hole, sometimes in the form of relativistic jets, and sometimes as winds that may carry away the equivalent of 1/3 of the mass of the moon per day! I will discuss how we observe this surprising behavior, and what it tells us about black hole astrophysics.

J1655

An artists conception of an accreting stellar black hole binary producing powerful outflows .

Credit: NASA/CXC


No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
3:15-4:15pm

37-252
Tour of the ACIS/CCD lab

Dr. Steve Kissel (MIT)

In this tour, we will introduce the participant to the CCD detector development at MIT.
 
Enrollment Limit: 15 persons,  advance sign up required;  Contact Dr. Norbert S. Schulz

Session 5:  Monday, Jan 23
2:00-2:30pm

37-252
Looking for the First Stars with a New Radio Telescope in Western Australia

Professor Jacqueline Hewitt (MIT)

The most distant structures astronomers observe are those encoded in the Cosmic Microwave Background, tracing primordial density fluctuations that later collapse to form the first stars and galaxies. Before the first stars formed, the universe consisted mainly of dark matter and hydrogen gas. Neutral hydrogen gas emits and absorbs radio waves at a characteristic frequency of 1.4 GHz, which in the first stars should be redshifted to a frequency of about 100 MHz. Radio astronomers, including some of us at MIT, are building a novel low-frequency radio telescope in Western Australia to search for hydrogen signals from the first stars.
Reionization

Phased-array dipole antennas, elements of the Murchison Widefield Array, on site in Western Australia.
Credit: J.N. Hewitt representing the MWA collaboration





No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
2:30-3:00pm

37-252
The Space Nanotechnology Lab: High Resolution X-Ray Optics with Nanometer Precision

Dr. Ralf Heilmann (MIT)

The Space Nanotechnology Lab (SNL) develops advanced lithographic and nano-fabrication technology for building high performance space instrumentation, as well as nanometer-accuracy metrology and assembly technology. Contributions to the currently orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, in-house award-winning tools (the MIT Nanoruler) and technologies for future missions in the making (ultra-high aspect ratio critical-angle transmission gratings, air-bearing slumped grazing incidence x-ray mirrors) are described.
Space Nanotechnology Lab
Credit: MIT Space Nanotechnology Lab

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
3:15-4:00pm

37-252
Tour of the Space Nanotechnology Lab

Dr. Ralf Heilmann (MIT)

During the tour of the SNL's three clean rooms visitors will see sophisticated optical (interference lithography stations for the fabrication of submicron period gratings, high power UV laser, metrology station for optics shape measurements, sub-nanometer resolution interferometers, etc.) and mechanical systems (XY-air-bearing stage, sub-micron accuracy alignment system, environmental enclosure, active vibration isolation, etc.) that support the development of thin-foil x-ray optics and gratings.

Enrollment Limit: 6 persons,  advance sign up required;  Contact Dr. Norbert S. Schulz
Prereq: Attendance of preceding SNL lecture (see above)

Session 6:  Tuesday, Jan 24
2:00-3:00pm

37-252
Dark Energy: The Greatest Mystery in the Universe

Professor Edmund Bertschinger (MIT)

By studying distant galaxies, supernovae, and cosmic radiation, astrophysicists have concluded that two-thirds of the mass-energy density in the universe is in a bizarre form unlike atomic matter or any other particles hypothesized by physicists. Why do we think it's there? Why do we care? What is it? How might we find out?

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up


Session 7:  Wednesday, Jan 25
2:00-2:30pm

37-252
Astronomy with Gravitational Waves

Professor Scott Hughes (MIT)

Gravitational waves, a fundamental prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity, are generated by very dense, massive, violently dynamic astrophysical systems.   By measuring these waves, we could open an observational "window" onto these processes.   In this talk, I describe in more detail the promise that gravitational waves offer as an observational tool for astrophysics, and why measuring these waves poses such a large experimental challenge.

spacetime curvature of a small black hole orbiting a larger one

Artist conception of gravitational wave patterns of a small black hole orbiting a large black hole.

Credit: www.space.com



No enrollment limit, no advance sign up

2:30-3:00pm

37-252
Detecting Gravitational Waves

Professor Nergis Mavalvala (MIT)

Gravitational waves from astrophysical systems cause tiny changes in the distance between massive objects, or "test particles".  We can detect these waves by measuring displacements of 10^-18 m rms (1/1000 of an atomic nucleus!).  I will describe how we can make such precise measurements, both on the Earth and in space, and show recent experimental data from gravitational-wave observatories.

minimizing noise in LIGO

Minimizing noise in LIGO

Credit: LIGO


No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
3:15-4:15pm

37-252
Tour of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) Lab

Professor Nergis Mavalvala (MIT)

Visitors will be taken on a tour of the LIGO prototyping facilities at MIT.  These include a full-scale prototype of the LIGO vacuum chambers, laser, isolation and suspension systems, and laboratories for thermal and optical noise measurements.

Enrollment Limit: 16 persons,  advance sign up required;  Contact Dr. Norbert S. Schulz

Session 8:  Monday, Jan 30
2:00-2:30pm

37-252
Dissecting the X-rays from Supernova Remnants

Dr. Laura Lopez

Supernovae are the explosive ends of the lives of massive stars. As the most energetic events in the Universe, supernovae can outshine their host galaxies, and these explosions produce and distribute almost all the elements in the periodic table. The metal synthesized during supernovae emit copious X-rays, and we can study these X-rays to discern the nature of the explosions, even thousands of years after the supernovae occur. In my presentation, I will highlight what astronomers have learned about these explosions from X-ray observations of the historical remnants from supernovae that happened in our own Milky Way galaxy.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up

2:30-3:00pm

37-252
MICRO-X: A New Era of High Resolution X-Ray Spectroscopy

Professor Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano

Micro-X is an X-ray spectroscopic sounding rocket telescope which will fly a next-generation detector system using superconducting transition-edge sensors (one of the world's most sensitive thermometers) to measure the energy of incoming X-rays from diffuse X-ray emitting objects at resolutions 30-60 times better than the current state-of-the art CCDs. Micro-X's first flight in 2011 will observe the Puppis A supernova remnant, obtaining an exquisite spectrum which will allow detailed analysis of the physical state of the plasma. By measuring the spectra from this line-rich source, Micro-X will measure the temperature, velocity, turbulence, and composition of Puppis A with unprecedented detail.

MICRO-X

Micro-X observing the Puppis A SNR in a rocket flight.

Credit: MIT/Micro-X





No enrollment limit, no advance sign up
3:15-4:00pm

37-252
Tour of the MICRO-X Lab

Professor Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano (MIT)

Visit the MICRO-X Lab sites as they get ready for launch. This MIT-lead project is in the integration and testing phase and the tour will provide a glimpse at the actual rocket hardware

Enrollment Limit: 12 persons,  advance sign up required;  Contact Dr. Norbert S. Schulz
Prereq: Attendance of preceding SNL lecture (see above)