a Astrophysics for IAP 2016


Events offered at MIT during the January 2016 Independent Activities Period.

The MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research concentrates scientists at MIT working on observing and understanding how the Universe works. Every year during IAP, we host a series of events to share the kind of work that's going on here with the broader MIT community. Please join us this year for science talks, lab tours, or observing outings. Most talks are in room 37-252 (in the McNair Building), unless otherwise stated.

Please contact John Miller (jmiller@ligo.mit.edu) or Robert Lanza (rklanza@mit.edu) with any questions.

Nanotechnology in Space

5 January 2016, 2:30 - 4:15pm

Learn about nano-fabrication technology for high-performance space instrumentation with a talk and a lab tour.

High-resolution x-ray optics at the Space Nanotechnology Laboratory: From nanometers to gigaparsecs

Dr. Ralf Heilmann, 2:30 - 3:00pm in 37-252

The Space Nanotechnology Laboratory (SNL) develops advanced lithography 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 and shaped further using ion implantation. 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 for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Tour of the Space Nanotechnology Lab -- please note tour limit and prerequisite below

Dr. Ralf Heilmann, 3:15 - 4:15pm departing from 37-252

During the tour of the SNL's three clean rooms visitors will see sophisticated optical (interference lithography stations for the fabrication of sub-micron period gratings, high power UV laser, metrology station for optics shape measurements, sub-nanometer resolution interferometers, etc.), reactive-ion etching (Plasmtherm RIE, new STPS Pegasus DRIE) and mechanical systems (XY-air-bearing stage, environmental enclosure, active vibration isolation, etc.) as well as a scanning electron microscope, all of which support the development of thin-foil x-ray optics and gratings.

Please Note:
6 people max for tour. Advance sign-up required starting at 2:25pm in 37-252 immediately before Dr. Heilmann's talk. Attendance of talk is required for tour of the Space Nanotechnology Lab. Tour will leave from 37-252 at 3:15pm, and last until about 4:15pm.

Vibration Isolation

7 January 2016, 9:00am - 12:00pm

Explore the vibration isolation techniques which enable the LIGO interferometers to function.

Vibration isolation and control of sensitive systems -- please note advanced sign-up required

Dr. Fabrice Matichard, 9:00am - 12:00pm in 37-252

The presentation will give a general introduction to the problem of vibration isolation. We'll discuss the following concepts:
- Passive isolation principles
- Static deflection
- Damping
- Transmissibility and compliance
- Multi-staging
- Active isolation principles
- Block diagrams
- Loop shaping
- Absolute versus relative control
- Inertial sensors
- Sensor Noise
- Sensor Fusion
- Noise Budgeting
- Feedforward control
We'll finish the presentation by a review of vibration isolation systems used either in the industry or in physics experiments.
Presentation 9:00-11:00 in Marlar Lounge 37-252. A tour of the LIGO labs will follow the presentation. Pre-requisite for taking the LIGO labs tour is attending the presentation.

Requirements: basic knowledge of Laplace/Frequency domain formalism.
Presentation and tour limited to 16 people. Advanced sign up required by 4pm on January 6.

Wrinkles in Spacetime

12 January 2016, 1:15 - 4:00pm

Learn about gravitational waves rippling through the Universe with talks and a lab tour.

Listening to the universe with gravitational waves

Prof. Scott Hughes, 1:15 - 2:00pm in 37-252

Advanced LIGO is on the cusp of using gravitational waves as a tool for observing the universe. What are gravitational waves, and how do we use them to observe the universe? I will describe how gravitational waves are produced by violent and interesting astronomical events, and why they are especially useful for teaching us about those events. I will emphasize that these waves are analogous to sound, and will illustrate how we learn from them with some examples of what theory tells us certain interesting example gravitational waves “sound like” to the “ears” of a detector like LIGO.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Searching for Gravitational Waves with LIGO

Dr. Adam Libson, 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts the existence of gravitational radiation. Since gravity is a weak force, it takes extreme masses and energies to produce a detectable gravitational wave signature. Indirect evidence for the existence of this radiation has been collected using pulsar measurements. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is an experiment designed to directly detect this radiation, and use it to study exotic astrophysical phenomena. To do this, LIGO must measure length changes with a precision of 10^{-19} meters, less than a thousandth of a proton diameter. In this talk, I will briefly discuss gravitational radiation and its sources, and I will also describe the LIGO detectors and the physics involved in their operation. Finally, I will discuss some of the quantum limits on making this type of precision measurement, and the ways in which LIGO hopes to beat these limits.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

TOUR: Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) Lab -- please note tour limit and prerequisite below

Dr. Adam Libson, 2:30 - 4:00pm leaving from 37-252

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.

Please Note:
Max 10 people, advance sign-up required starting at 1:55 pm in 37-252.
Prerequisites:Attendance of talks preceding the tour.

Astronomy Hack Day

14 January 2016, 11:00am-4:00pm

Event rescheduled to Thursday 14 Jan

Nothing says "hacking" like throwing together a last minute group coding session!

Astronomers Hack IAP

Dr. Lia Corrales, 11:00am - 4:00pm in 37-252

In solidarity with the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Hack Day, taking place this Friday (January 8) as part of their annual winter meeting, Code Coffee will host a hack day at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. What is a hack day, you ask? It's about getting together to write code or work on some other project, *fast*. It could be for science or just for fun! You don't need to bring an idea to participate, and a range of expertise is appreciated (be it C++, python, php, or web design). So grab a friend and come to Marlar for some snacks and coding!

For more about the AAS Hack Day session:

Some examples of hacks:

Attendance will be capped at 40 participants. To attend, please complete the google form by 3pm on Wednesday, Jan 13. Lunch may be provided. Check back for updates.

Solar Observing

Three dates:

19 January 2016, 1:00pm - 3:00pm, North Court (behind Stata)

22 January 2016, 12:00 - 2:00pm, Student Centre (upper plaza area)

27 January 2016, 12:00 - 2:00pm, North Court (behind Stata)

27 Jan event cancelled due to clouds

Join us for daytime stargazing! We will have solar telescopes set up so you can safely observe our closest star, the Sun. Swing on by for a quick look, and feel free to stay and chat with MIT astronomers over cups of cocoa.

weather permitting


19 January 2016, 2:00 - 3:25pm in 37-252

How and what can we learn about extra-solar planets?

A Decade-Long Journey to TESS

Dr. George Ricker, 2:00 - 2:40pm in 37-252

Dr. Ricker will describe the development program at MIT that led to the successful proposal for TESS (The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). A long-term goal of TESS and follow-on missions is to find Earth-like planets that are the right distance from their planets' stars to be within the habitable zone where conditions might be suitable for the existence of life.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

The Search for Habitable Planets

Prof. Sara Seager, 2:45 - 3:25pm in 37-252

Professor Seager will describe how scientists infer the properties of extrasolar planets and their atmospheres from observations, how life may alter the atmospheres to produce observable biosignatures, and the future investigations that will probe for signs of life on other planets.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Astronomy Triptych

20 January 2016, 2:00 - 3:30pm in 37-252

A selection of the outstanding work done here at MKI

Illuminating the Dark ages and the Cosmic Dawn with Radio Interferometers

Mr. Aaron Ewall-Wice, 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

A critical chapter in the Universe’s history, known as the Dark Ages, remains nearly entirely unobserved. During this time period, our universe underwent a dramatic transformation from a relatively uniform mixture of hydrogen, helium, and dark matter filaments, into the luminescent and chemically complex realm of stars and galaxies that we live in today. The time period over which the first luminous sources turned on is known as the cosmic dawn. In this talk, I will discuses how the observational technique known as 21cm tomography which will allow us to observe the dark ages and the cosmic dawn, allowing for us to learn about the formation and evolution of the first galaxies.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Determining iron abundances in cool stars: The Role of Hydrogen collisions

Dr. Rana Ezzeddine, 2:30 - 3:00pm in 37-252

Determination of high precision abundances is an important goal of all spectroscopic studies. Accurate modelling of stellar spectra is therefore essential to determine these abundances and stellar parameters. I will explain in this talk the non-Local Thermodynamic Equilibrium (non-LTE) approach to modelling stellar spectra of cool stars, highlighting the important role that Hydrogen collisions play.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Seeing a World in a Point of Light

Dr. Zach Berta-Thompson, 3:00 - 3:30pm in 37-252

Astronomers can observe the sizes, orbits, masses, and atmospheres of planet orbiting distant stars, without ever seeing the planets directly. Come learn how we do this and the worlds we hope to discover soon, with the help of the TESS mission, now being built at MIT.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Black Holes in X-ray Light

21 January 2016, 2:00 - 3:25pm

Learn how astronomers use X-ray telescopes to observe black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Observing Black Holes

Dr. Victoria Grinberg, 2:00 - 2:40pm in 37-252

Black holes are perhaps the most mind-boggling objects ever conceived by physicists and there is hardly any science fiction series today that will not feature them in some capacity. However, black holes are also very much observable and one of the major topics of today's X-ray astronomy.

In this talk I will give a very short overview of what black holes are, where we find astrophysical black holes, why we need X-ray astronomy and thus satellite-based telescopes such as Chandra to observe black holes, and how observations of both, supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies and the "small" black holes of only a few solar masses in binary star systems, improve our understanding of the physics of our universe.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Using X-ray Spectroscopy to Measure a Binary's Relativistic Outflow

Dr. Herman Marshall, 2:45 - 3:25pm in 37-252

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 million degrees and can be used to measure the density and location of the outflows we call jets.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

Gravitational Lensing

25 January 2016, 1:30 - 2:00pm

Event cancelled

Gravitational Mirages

Prof. Paul Schecter, 1:30 - 2:00pm in 37-252

According to Einstein's theory, gravity produces what is, in effect, an index of refraction. Light passing in the vicinity of an astronomical object will be delayed, deflected and distorted by the variations in this index of refraction, in a manner exactly analogous to terrestrial mirages. Such cosmic mirages are a major tool for the study of dark matter in galaxies and clusters of galaxies.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

MIT in Orbit

25 January 2016, 2:00 - 2:30pm

Scientists at MIT are building detectors for a new X-ray telescope on the International Space Station!

NICER to the Space Station in 2016: Astrophysics of Neutron Stars and Black Holes via X-ray Astronomy

Dr. Ronald Remillard 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR ("NICER"), will be launched to the International Space Station in August 2016. The NICER detector team at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics has delivered Si drift detectors and signal processing electronics for the 56 cameras that constitute the Instrument. The cameras are sensitive to X-ray photons in the range 0.2-12 keV, and each event will be time-tagged with an instrument clock that ticks at 40 ns. This talk will review the science goals, the instrument technology, and the calibration equipment that allows us to accomplish requirements, including the achievement of timing accuracy to 100 ns in the Solar System barycenter.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

The Chandra Space Telescope

26 January 2016, 2:00 - 4:15pm

Learn about one of NASA's great observatories with a talk and two tours.

Exploring the Universe from Near to Far with the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Dr. Michael Nowak, 2:00 - 2:30pm in in 37-252

In the summer of 1999, NASA launched the third of its great observatories -- the Chandra X-ray telescope. Like the Hubble Space telescope which preceded it, Chandra is designed to have an unprecedented ability to create images and spectra of astrophysical objects, except working with high energy X-rays instead of optical light. This means that Chandra views some of the universe's most exotic and energetic phenomena: supernovae, neutron stars, black holes, jets traveling at nearly the speed of light emanating from near the center of clusters of galaxies. In this talk, we'll take a tour of the discoveries made by the Chandra X-ray telescope, starting with studies of our own solar system, moving outward to nearby stars, to the center of our own Galaxy where a black hole 40 millions times the mass of our Sun lurks, to distant clusters of Galaxies where the most massive black holes, billions of times the mass of our Sun, reside.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up for the talk, but advance sign up by 1/21/2015 required for Chandra X-ray Observatory tour which follows. See sign up details below.

Tour of the Operations Control Center for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, One of NASA's Great Observatories

Dr. Norbert Schulz, 2:45 - 3:30pm leaving from in 37-252 at 2:30pm

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.

Please note:
Tour will be limited to max 20 people. Advance sign-up for tour required! Sign up deadline 12:00noon on JANUARY 21. Contact Debbie Meinbresse (meinbres@mit.edu) with your name and country of citizenship. Prerequisites: Attendance of 2:00pm talk by Dr. Michael Nowak (Marlar Lounge, 37-252) preceding the tour.
NOTE: This event and the subsequent one are in building NE-80 and NE-83, which are restricted areas. We will walk over as a group from Building 37, immediately following Dr. Nowak’s talk. Building NE-83 is about an 8 minute walk away, near the Cambridge Brewing Company. Be sure to bring your ID with you (driver’s license, state issued identification card, or passport)!

Tour of the X-ray Polarimetry Lab

Drs. Norbert Schulz and Herman Marshall, 3:45 - 4:15pm

Tour of MIT’s X-ray Polarimetry Lab, where new X-ray instrumentation is currently being developed.

Please note:
Tour will be limited to max 20 people. Advance sign-up for tour required! Sign up deadline 12:00noon on JANUARY 21. Contact Debbie Meinbresse (meinbres@mit.edu) with your name and country of citizenship. Prerequisites: Attendance of 2:00pm talk by Dr. Michael Nowak (Marlar Lounge, 37-252) preceding the tour.

LIGO Interferometery

27 January 2016, 1:30 - 4:00pm

Discover the techniques which make LIGO work with hands-on demonstrations.

Michelson Interferometer Demonstration

Ms. Maggie Tse, 1:30 - 2:30pm in NW22-258

How do you measure distances smaller than one-thousandth the diameter of a proton? Why do we care? Come find out in this hands-on interactive demo, where you will learn about Michelson interferometery, the basic principle behind how LIGO measures explosions in outer space using giant lasers. Real lasers included!

If you stay with us after 2:30pm, you can apply your new knowledge and operate a real suspended interferometer with Dr. Kontos in the LIGO lab!

Directions to NW22-258: Enter through the loading dock entrance in the parking lot between NW22 and NW17. The door will be propped open for the event. Once inside, follow the signs and take the elevator to the second floor.

No enrollment limit, no advance sign up.

TOUR: Lock a Suspended Interferometer -- please note tour limit and prerequisite below

Dr. Antonios Kontos, 2:30 - 4:00pm leaving from NW22-258

Work with LIGO scientists to lock a suspended Michelson-style interferometer using real-time automated control systems.

Please note:
6 people max for tour. Advance sign-up required starting at 1:25pm in NW22-258 immediately before Ms. Tse's. Attendance of talk is required of tour participants.