MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

IAP 2013 Activities

Lecture and Lab Tour 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. Also 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.

Lectures:
No enrollment limit, no advance sign-up for the lectures. Participants can attend individual lectures.
Prerequisites: None

Lab Tours:
Limited enrollment, advance sign-up required for each lab tour; see individual tour descriptions below.
Prerequisites: Attendance of talk(s) preceding the tour.

All lectures will be held in 37-252 in Building 37 (campus map); tours of the labs will depart from 37-252 following the lectures.

Contact:     Dr. Eric D. Miller
37-582G
milleric@mit.edu


Session 1: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - Black Holes and Jets
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
If black holes are black, then how do we see them? (Answer: sometimes we don't!)
Dr. Michael Nowak (MIT Kavli Institute)


Artist's conception of a stellar mass black hole in the Milky Way. Credit: outerspaceuniverse.com
It was in a 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 46 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 some of 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.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:30-3:00 pm

Room
37-252
Using X-ray Spectroscopy to Measure a Binary's Relativistic Outflow
Dr. Herman Marshall (MIT Kavli Institute)

The stellar binary SS 433 was once featured on Saturday Night Live as the "comin' and a-goin' star". By means that are still somewhat mysterious, the system ejects blobs of plasma in opposite directions at a speed of about a quarter of the speed of light. The compact object that is responsible for providing the impetus for this plasma is probably a black hole about 10 times the mass of the Sun. I show what we've come to understand about the system and its jets such as how their directions trace out twin cones on the sky. X-ray spectroscopy, using the Chandra High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer that were built here at MIT, shows that the plasma temperature reaches at least 100 billion degrees and can be used to measure the density and location of the outflows we call jets.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

3:15-4:15 pm

Room
37-252
Tour of the Operations Control Center for the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the X-ray Polarimetry Lab
Dr. Herman Marshall (MIT Kavli Institute)

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 people, advance sign-up required; contact Dr. Eric Miller.
Prerequisites: Attendance of talks preceding the tour.



Session 2: Thursday, January 10, 2013 - Detecting Gravitational Waves
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
Detecting Gravitational Waves
Dr. Matthew Evans (MIT Kavli Institute)

It is an exciting time in the field of gravitational wave astrophysics; new detectors are under construction around the world and significant results are expected in the next 5 years. Laser-interferometric gravitational wave detectors are the most sensitive position meters ever operated, aiming to detect the motion of massive bodies throughout the universe by pushing precision measurement to the standard quantum limit, and beyond. I'll talk about astrophysical sources of gravitational waves, the principals behind gravitational wave detection, and the technological challenges involved in interferometric gravitational wave detection.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:45-4:00 pm

Room
37-252
Tour of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) Lab
Dr. Matthew Evans (MIT Kavli Institute)

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: 10 people, advance sign-up required; contact Dr. Eric Miller.
Prerequisites: Attendance of talk preceding the tour.



Session 3: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - Exoplanets
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
Planet Formation and the Origins of Life
Dr. Kevin Schlaufman (Kavli Fellow, MIT Kavli Institute)

The first planet outside of our own Solar System was discovered in 1995. Since that time, over 800 of these "exoplanets" have been identified orbiting other stars in our own Galaxy. Few of these planetary systems resemble the Solar System, and those differences may determine the frequency of life in the Universe. I'll describe how models of planet formation attempt to explain both the Solar System and the exotic systems now known to orbit other stars. I'll also survey the emerging field of astrobiology and examine the interface between planet formation and the origins of life.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:30-3:00 pm

Room
37-252
How to Find & Characterize a Habitable Earth-like Planet
Dr. Bryce Croll (Sagan Fellow, MIT Kavli Institute)

To many members of the public, and indeed the wider astronomical community, one of the most pressing questions in the field of extrasolar planets is how are we going to find a planet similar to the Earth that can support life, and how are we going to know it when we find it? In this short talk, I'll discuss the techniques that are currently allowing us, and will allow us in the future, to find planets very similar to our own Earth, and the techniques that will allow us to characterize these worlds and to determine how similar to our own pale, blue dots these planets really are?

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.



Session 4: Thursday, January 17, 2013 - New Instruments for Understanding the Evolution of the Universe
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
Looking for the First Stars with a New Radio Telescope in Western Australia
Prof. Jacqueline Hewitt (MIT Kavli Institute)


Phased-array dipole antennas, elements of the Murchison Widefield Array, on site in Western Australia. Credit: J.N. Hewitt, MWA collaboration; www.mwatelescope.org.
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 150 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 associated with the first stars. I will present results from our 32-antenna prototype array, and a progress report on the construction of our 128-antenna array that is designed to detect the signals we seek.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:30-3:00 pm

Room
37-252
High-resolution x-ray optics at the Space Nanotechnology Laboratory: From nanometers to gigaparsecs
Dr. Ralf Heilmann (MIT Kavli Institute)

  
The Space Nanotechnology Laboratory (SNL) develops advanced lithographic and nano-fabrication technology for high performance space instrumentation, as well as nanometer-accuracy metrology and assembly technology. Two current efforts are the development of nanofabricated soft x-ray gratings, the so-called critical-angle transmission (CAT) gratings, and the development of high-precision focusing X-ray mirrors. CAT gratings require the fabrication of sub-micron structures with extreme geometries and sub-nanometer precision, while x-ray mirrors are formed at 600 deg C while floating on porous air bearings. These efforts are aimed at instruments that can help find the missing baryons in the Cosmic Web and reveal the secrets of dark matter.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

3:15-4:15 pm

Room
37-252
Tour of the Space Nanotechnology Lab
Dr. Ralf Heilmann (MIT Kavli Institute)

  
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 people, advance sign-up required; contact Dr. Eric Miller.
Prerequisites: Attendance of talks preceding the tour.



Session 5: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - The Ins and Outs of Galaxy Clusters
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
Clusters of Galaxies: The Cosmic Melting Pot
Dr. Eric Miller (MIT Kavli Institute)

  
The massive galaxy cluster Abell 1689, with member galaxies shown in white along with the hot X-ray emitting gas in blue. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/E.-H Peng. Optical: NASA/STScI; more information.
In the current model for the evolution of the universe, small matter density fluctuations early on collapsed into a web-like structure. At the nodes of this web lie galaxy clusters, the largest gravitationally collapsed structures in the universe. These mammoth systems are composed of hundreds or thousands of galaxies, a large reservoir of 50-100 million degree gas, and a dark matter halo which dominates the gravitational potential. In this talk, I will show simulations of the evolution of the early universe and explain how we think galaxy clusters form. I will also describe what we can learn from studying these remarkable systems--with topics ranging from chemical enrichment of the universe to plasma physics to cosmology--and explore the current and upcoming X-ray telescopes that help us do it.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:30-3:00 pm

Room
37-252
Black Hole Feedback Versus Cooling Flows - An Epic Battle in the Center of Galaxy Clusters
Dr. Michael McDonald (Hubble Fellow, MIT Kavli Institute)

In the center of the majority of galaxy clusters lies a single, extremely massive, spheroidal galaxy. These galaxies harbor the most massive black holes in the Universe at their center, weighing in at around ten trillion times the mass of our sun. Recent evidence suggests that these supermassive black holes are depositing a tremendous amount of mechanical energy into the intracluster environment by inflating enormous bubbles in the hot, intracluster gas. Curiously, the amount of energy deposited into the intracluster medium is precisely what is required to prevent this hot, tenuous atmosphere from cooling and collapsing onto the central galaxy and igniting a burst of star formation. In this talk, I will discuss this remarkable balance between cooling and feedback in the centers of galaxy clusters, providing examples of both well-behaved systems and systems that appear to be out of equilibrium, and demonstrate how understanding this ongoing battle in the cores of galaxy clusters can shed light on the mysteries of galaxy formation.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

3:15-4:15 pm

Room
37-252
Tour of the Chandra ACIS CCD Lab
Dr. Steve Kissel (MIT Kavli Institute)

In this tour, we will introduce the participant to the CCD detector development at MIT.

Enrollment limit: 15 people, advance sign-up required; contact Dr. Eric Miller.
Prerequisites: Attendance of talks preceding the tour.



Session 6: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - The Life Cycle of Stars
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
The High Energy Lifestyle of Young Stars
Dr. Norbert Schulz (MIT Kavli Institute)

  
A nearby star is pummeling a companion planet with a barrage of X-rays a hundred thousand times more than the Earth receives from the Sun. Credit: NASA/CXC/NSF/IPAC/2MASS (see the press release).
The birth of a star always happens in the darkness of cosmic dust hidden from the view of the human eye. When the newborn star finally becomes visible, it is already at the stage of kindergarten. Even then and until maturity, the observation of these young stars appears rather uneventful, maybe interesting and peculiar at best. However, once we look beyond the reach of the human eye, a different, much more active and violent picture emerges. Specifically at X-rays, young stars seem to act it out and patterns of high emissivities, energetic flares, and wind interactions are observed. These energetic emissions also have a profound impact on its accretion history and the formation of planets and planetary systems. And while in most cases, high energy emissions of stars tone down to solar levels, some stars seem to keep it up their entire life.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:30-3:00 pm

Room
37-252
Dissecting the X-rays from Supernova Remnants
Dr. Laura Lopez (Pappalardo Fellow, Einstein Fellow, MIT Kavli Institute)

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.



Session 7: Thursday, January 31, 2013 - Evolution of the Early Universe
2:00-2:30 pm

Room
37-252
Creating An Apple Pie From Scratch: The Early Universe In A Supercomputer
Dr. Brendan Griffen (MIT Kavli Institute)

Describing the evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to what we see today is not an easy undertaking. The advent of powerful computers however has created a unique opportunity for astronomers to study the build up of structure over cosmic time. In particular, these machines are now helping us understand where and when the first stellar systems formed. What we're finding is that these first stellar "heaters" had a profound effect on future generations of stars and ultimately the galaxies we see today. In this talk I will discuss current state of the art simulations and some of the currently unsolved problems in computational astrophysics.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

2:30-3:00 pm

Room
37-252
Stellar Archaeology: New Science with Old Stars
Prof. Anna Frebel (MIT Kavli Institute)

The early chemical evolution of the Galaxy and the Universe is vital to our understanding of a host of astrophysical phenomena. Since the oldest Galactic stars are relics from the high-redshift Universe, they probe the chemical and dynamical conditions of a time when large galaxies first began to assemble. Through analysis of their surface composition, they probe the chemical and dynamical conditions as the Milky Way began to form, the origin and evolution of the elements, and the physics of nucleosynthesis. Some of these stars display a strong overabundance of the heaviest elements, in particular uranium and thorium. They can thus be radioactively dated, giving formation times ~ 13 Gyr ago, similar to the ~ 13.7 Gyr age of the Universe. In addition to talking about the science results, I will show a few video clips about observing with the 6.5m optical Magellan telescopes in the Atacama desert in Chile.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.


MKI
MIT
Last updated: Mon Jun 17 13:30:43 EDT 2013
email: milleric@mit.edu