Events offered at MIT during the January 2017 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 Paul Torrey (, Elisabeth Newton (, or Carl Rodriguez ( with any questions.

Solar Observing

Three dates:

12 January, 12:00pm - 2:00pm, North Court -- behind Stata and Koch buildings

12 Jan event cancelled due to clouds

18 January, 12:00pm - 2:00pm, Outside of MIT Student Center -- upper plaza area

18 Jan event cancelled due to clouds

27 January, 12:00pm - 2:00pm, North Court -- behind Stata and Koch buildings

31 January, 12:00pm - 2:00pm, MIT Student Center -- upper plaza area

31 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

Complexity in the Universe

13 January 2017, 1:30 - 2:30pm

Complexity and Multifractals in Space and the Universe.

Complexity and Multifractals in Space and the Universe.

Dr. Tom Chang, 1:30 - 2:00pm in 37-252

Abstract: This talk comprises a series of descriptive narratives geared toward the general audience. "Dynamical complexity" is a phenomenon observed in interacting many-body systems within which multitudes of different sizes of large scale coherent structures emerge, resulting in stochastic behaviors vastly different from those that could be surmised from the underlying equations of interactions. Everywhere one peers into space and the cosmos, there is complexity with the appearance of intermittent fluctuating events involving the mixing and distribution of correlated structures at all spatial and temporal scales. We shall briefly discuss techniques describing intermittency based on the concept of multifractals -- i.e., multitudes of structures involving non-integer dimensions, and provide several interesting examples with colorful graphics. Theories that explain the onsets and evolutions of the multifractals are then qualitatively described. In particular, one such method, CILOMAS (complexity induced Lifshitz ordering with multifractal antiscreening and screening), can yield interesting probable answers to the perplexing mysteries involving dark matters in gravitational evolution at cosmological scales.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Simulating the Universe on a Supercomputer

Ryan McKinnon, 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

Galaxies in the universe form and grow over time in a complicated nonlinear fashion. Recent advances in supercomputing ability make it possible to numerically model the essential physics and evolve a "mock" universe from shortly after the Big Bang to the present day, producing a fairly realistic population of galaxies. In this talk, I will highlight the key topics in physics that govern galaxy formation, display visualizations from state-of-the-art astrophysics simulations, and discuss the supercomputing resources needed to simulate the universe.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Exoplanet Research at MIT

19 January 2017, 1:00 - 2:30pm

Learn about exoplanet research being carried out at MIT.

Unlocking the Secrets of Nearby Exoplanets with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

Dr. George Ricker, 1:00 - 1:30pm in 37-252

Dr. Ricker will describe the development program at MIT that followed from the successful proposal to NASA for the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) space mission. A primary goal of TESS is to locate candidate Earth-sized planets in the solar neighborhood. A special focus will be on exoplanets that lie within the habitable zone of their host stars, where conditions might be suitable for the existence of life. The TESS science instruments will be operated from the MIT campus. TESS is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in early 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Exoplanet Science in the era of TESS

Dr. Jenn Burt, 1:30 - 2:00pm in 37-252

The beginning of the TESS spacecraft's science mission in mid 2018 promises the detection of thousands of exoplanets orbiting bright, nearby stars. These planets will provide astronomers with our best ever opportunity to mount extensive follow up observation efforts and try to understand the composition, distribution and evolution of planets in our galaxy. This talk will describe the anticipated TESS planet yield, its impact on the exoplanet field, and some of the follow up methods that astronomers will use to probe the composition of the planets' rocky cores and/or gaseous outer atmospheres.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

The mystery of super-Earth exoplanets

Dr Diana Dragomir, 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

Just 25 years ago, humanity did not know whether planets were common in the Universe or whether the Solar System was an anomaly. Then, in 1995 a giant planet was discovered in a 4-day orbit around a main sequence star. Since then, the number of exoplanets announced every year has been increasing exponentially. We now know of planets with periods between several hours and hundreds of years, and ranging in size from smaller than Mercury to larger than Jupiter. Most intriguing are the super-Earths, exoplanets with sizes between those of the Earth and Neptune. While absent in the Solar System, the Kepler satellite found they are ubiquitous around other stars. Yet we know very little about what these planets are like. Even in cases where we can measure their density, it is difficult to determine their composition. I will discuss how astronomers use both humble and powerful telescopes to gradually reveal the nature of this fascinating class of exoplanets.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Tour of the TESS Test Facility

Dr Greg Berthiaume, 2:30 - 3:30pm in 37-252

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky. In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will monitor more than 200,000 stars for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. This first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, around a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. No ground-based survey can achieve this feat.

The tour of the TESS test facility is available for a small number of attendees. Signup for the tour will become available at 12:50 p.m., just prior to the first exoplanet talk.

X-ray Spectroscopy and Polarimetry: Talk and Tour

20 January 2017, 1:30 - 3:00pm

Learn about the development and application of x-ray spectroscopy.

Heavier than the Sun, Smaller than a City: The Neutron Star

Dr. Paul Hemphill 1:30 - 2:00pm in 37-252

Neutron stars are some of the most extreme objects in the known Universe. More massive than the Sun, but just a few miles across, they have some of the highest densities, strongest magnetic fields, and highest temperatures of any celestial objects. In this talk I will give an overview of the origins and properties of the various types of neutron stars that we observe, as well as how we can detect them and their usefulness for astrophysics as a whole.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Tour of the X-ray Polarimetry Lab -- please note tour limit and prerequisite below

Drs. Norbert Schulz and Herman Marshall, 2:00 - 3:00pm departing from 37-252

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

Please Note:
20 people max for tour. Advance sign-up required starting at 1:25pm in 37-252 immediately before Dr. Hemphill's talk. Attendance of talk is required for tour of the Lab. Tour will leave from 37-252 at 2:00pm, and last until about 3:00pm.

Giant Telescopes and Metal Poor Stars

23 January 2017, 1:30 - 2:30pm

Learn about next generation telescopes and what metal poor stars tells us about the Universe's origins.

The First Stars

Alex Ji 1:30 - 2:00pm in 37-252

The Universe hasn't always been filled with stars. Come learn how astronomers are trying to u nderstand how the first stars were made, tackling this question from both theoretical and observational perspectives.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Modern Cyclopses - The Era of Giant Telescopes

Dr. Gabor Furesz, 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

While astronomical observations have been carried out for thousands of years it is only the past four centuries when our naked eyes have been aided by telescopes. With today's 'giant eyes' we can peer really deep into the night sky, literally reaching the edge of the (observable) Universe. But to get there we have to build larger and larger, ever more sensitive, better telescopes and instruments. It has been really just the past few decades when progress was exponential, just like in other fields: thanks to computers, highly sensitive digital detectors and other modern design and manufacturing technologies. But progress in astronomical instrumentation is also influenced by commercialization, the consumer market, as well as history and politics - as these extremely large and complex scientific machines require collaboration and unique technology developments that point beyond a single nation, even the U.S. One could rightfully ask: do we really need these even larger giant telescopes, if they are so expensive and we already can see to the edge of the Universe? I will argue for the "yes" answer by showing a few very exciting science cases, like the detection and characterization of extrasolar planets and understanding the chemical evolution of the Universe. To investigate these questions it is not enough to simply detect the light but also to analyze it in detail. While spectroscopy is a well established and great method to do so, it requires a lot of photons to be captured - which hopefully will be delivered by the next generation of giant light buckets.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

LIGO Interferometery

25 January 2017, 2:00 - 4:00pm

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

Michelson Interferometer Demonstration

Ms. Maggie Tse, 2:00 - 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 detects explosions in outer space. These explosions happen when two black holes merge and create gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were predicted by Einstein in 1916 and measured by LIGO in 2016. In this demo we will show you how giant lasers make this measurement possible, with 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 front doors of NW22, the doors on the right are for LIGO. The doors will be open for the event. Once inside, follow the signs 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 1:55pm in NW22-258 immediately before Ms. Tse's. Attendance of talk is required of tour participants.

MIT in Orbit and Gravitational Waves

26 January 2017, 1:30 - 2:00pm

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

Dr. Ronald Remillard 1:30 - 2:00pm in 37-252

NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR ("NICER"), will be launched to the International Space Station. 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 for talk, no advance sign-up required.

The era of gravitational-wave astronomy

Dr. Carl Rodriguez 2:00 - 2:30pm in 37-252

A billion years ago in a distant galaxy, two black holes collided, releasing more energy than the combined starlight of the entire universe. A billion years later on September 14th, 2015, LIGO observed these energetic ripples in spacetime as they traveled past Earth, officially beginning the era of gravitational-wave astronomy. But what are gravitational waves, and how do we use them for astronomy? In this talk I'll describe how black holes come together and merge, and how different features of gravitational waves allow us to answer questions about the dark side of the universe. I'll also describe other discoveries--beyond black holes--that LIGO is expected to make in the coming years.

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

The Universe in X-ray Light

30 January 2017, 2:30 - 4:00pm

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

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

Mike Nowak 2:30 - 3:00pm 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 for talk, no advance sign-up required.

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

Dr. Norbert Schulz, 3:00 - 4:00pm departing from 37-252

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.

Tour will be limited to max 20 people. Advance sign-up for tour required! Sign up deadline 12:00noon on JANUARY 19th. Contact Debbie Meinbresse ( with your name and country of citizenship. Prerequisites: Attendance of 2:30pm 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)!

Roman Warships!

31 January 2017, 4:00 - 4:30pm

Learn about reconstruction efforts for Roman Warships. This talk is co-sponsored by MIT History Faculty and MKI.

Roman warships in Experiment: Reconstruction and Sailing Tests

Dr. Moritz Gunther, 4:00 - 4:30pm in 37-252

Warning: This talk is non-astronomical and contains actual videos and possibly sound. After the climax of its power internal struggle weakened the military position of the Roman Empire. A series of attacks in the 2nd and 3rd century AD forced an adjustment of the military strategy in central Europe. Instead of further expansion, the borders of the empire were increasingly fortified. In Germany this lead to the construction of an impressive naval fleet on the rivers Rhine and Danube. Several of the boats have been excavated. Our team has attempted a reconstruction of two types of vessel, the "navis lusoria" and the "Oberstimm" with a level of detail down to the hand-smithened nails with the correct metallurgy. A series of three working boats have been built in original size. I will show pictures of the reconstruction phase, but concentrate on the on-the-water tests we have performed with different teams to access the speed, maneuverability and sailing performance of these boats. Particularly in sailing the possibilities far exceeded the expectations. This result indicates a much larger operating radius of these vessels than previously estimated and thus a much higher flexibility of the river defense scheme which the empire relied on to keep the barbarians at bay. See, e.g.: this movie

No enrollment limit for talk, no advance sign-up required.

Nanotechnology in Space

3 February 2017, 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 usingion 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.