Astrophysics is the scientific study of the structure and evolution of the universe, from the smallest scales measurable to the limits of detect-ability. It encompasses such diverse areas as the formation and evolution of stars and planetary systems, the chemical evolution of galaxies, and the deep connections between the quantum nature of matter and the large-scale structure of the cosmos. As such, it necessarily overlaps or interfaces with a very large variety of related fields. Among these are such areas as high energy physics (cosmic ray generation, stellar core neutrino production, gamma ray processes), condensed matter physics (the structure of collapsed stars such as white dwarfs and neutron stars, the formation of solid particles in stellar atmospheres and interstellar space), chemistry (gas-phase and surface reactions of atoms, ions, and molecules in stellar and interstellar environments, planetary atmospheres and surfaces), geology and geophysics (planetary surfaces and interiors), and even biology (the interaction of biological systems on planetary atmosphere development, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - SETI).
Astrophysics Research at UC
Here at the University of Cincinnati, research in astrophysics can be broadly characterized as the investigation of young stellar systems and their environment, primarily at infrared wavelengths. Stars are born deeply embedded inside massive clouds of gas and dust. The dust not only dims the light from these stars, but the energy the dust absorb causes it to glow. Because the dust is much less efficient at obscuring the intrinsic light from such stars at infrared wavelengths than in the visible or ultraviolet, and because most of the dust-glow also occurs in the infrared, this spectral region is a prime window through which the formation and evolution of young stellar systems can be investigated.
Our most recent Annual Report of the departments astronomy activities can be found at the following site Annual Reports of Astronomical Observatories and Departments.
Almost all data obtained for professional research is done so off campus, using large, national and international telescopes. However, the department does maintain telescopes on campus for astronomy students to learn about the sky and the sun. The department is currently constructing a solar telescope, called a heloistat, which will bring light from the sun directly down into the introductory astronomy laboratory room in Braunstein 339. An article about the solar telescope can be found here. Also, a radio telescope is being constructed by two of our physics majors in the senior advanced lab course.
Dr. Margaret Hanson's research emphasizes the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to study and analyze massive stars and massive star systems. Her present interest is in using newly completed, sophisticated stellar atmosphere models, developed with her collaborater, Joachim Puls (U. Munich) to work exclusively with near-infrared spectra, to characterize the massive star population of the inner galaxy. She presently has ongoing programs which aim to study the stellar content and cluster properties of the Galactic Center Cluster, Cluster 11 (a newly identified galactic center cluster), Westerlund 1, and W49a using the ESO Very Large Telescope and The Hubble Space Telescope.
Dr. Michael Sitko's work deals primarily with the physical and chemical evolution of the material in protostellar disks using infrared spectroscopy. These disks of gas and dust are the material from which planetary systems are believed to form. Using infrared spectroscopy, it is possible to investigate how the mineralogy of the material changes with age and mass of the protostellar systems. For example, mid-IR spectra of three stars in the TW Hydrae Association (TWA) are quite different in character, even though the stars were born from the same cloud of material at about the same time. It is also becoming more and more apparent that the material in these systems is often nearly indistinguishable from that of cometary material in our own solar system, suggesting that the basic materials that went into forming the planets here are present around other stars. Spectra of the pre-main sequence stars HD 163296 and HD 31648 exhibit features found in many solar system comets. To investigate these relationships further, comparison spectra of interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) of cometary origin and dust material condensed in the laboratory are being obtained by collaborators and are being used for comparison. If you are interested in finding out more about Mike's research, visit his Home Page
Yara Beshara, arrived in Summer 2003 from Louisiana State University where she was involved in a lot of astronomical research with Prof. Geoffrey Clayton. She recently submitted a proposal to obtain new near-infrared spectra of the recently identified galactic center cluster, Cluster 11.
Melodie Fickenscher began as a graduate student in the Astronomy program in Summer 2004. Melodie's plan is to complete a master's thesis using some very complex spectra taken with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope of massive evolved stars near the galactic center.
Amanda Bauer investigated the characteristics of an SBIG ST-8 CCD camera that has been shipped to the Perth Observatory in Australia. The camera being used to obtain BRI photometry of selected Herbig Ae/Be stars and T Tauri stars observed simultaneously with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph on the Hubble Telescope. Amanda graduated with her B.S. degree in Spring 2002, and is now a graduate student of astronomy at the University of Texas, Austin.
Lara Mercurio worked on near-infrared spectra of CI Cam, which has recently become a very popular object. For years it was known as nothing more than a common Be (perhaps B[e]) star (that's a B star with emission lines). But CI Cam has recently been identified to be a source of very high energy photons (X-rays and Gamma-rays). It is now thought to be in orbit around a compact object (neutron star or black hole). Lara, working with Prof. Hanson, was looking at how the emission lines in CI Cam have evolved since the high energy outburst occurred 2 years ago, and investigate if in studying the changing conditions of CI Cam, she can discern the nature of the compact object. Lara graduated in Spring 2001 and is now a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon.
In the summer of 2001, Carolyn Eglet and Melodie Fickenscher joined Hanson's massive stars group. Melodie was analyzing some recently obtained spectra of SS 433, while Carolyn worked on a project studying the young star forming region M17 in red-optical spectra. Carolyn will complete her B.S. degree in enginnering at UC in 2004. Melodie graduated with her B.S. degree in applied physics in 2002 and now is back working for Prof. Hanson full time as a graduate student (listed above).
Ryan Culler completed his master's degree, working with Prof. Hanson, in the summer of 2001. Ryan is now an adjunct professor at The College of Wooster in the Department of Physics. Ryan is very excited about his first teaching position and we wish him the best of luck!!
Uswatte Hemamala has completed her master's thesis in the Summer of 2000 and is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. While at Cincinnati, she obtained data using the Heinrich Hertz Sub-millimeter Telescope and working closely with Dr. Tom Wilson, Director of the SMT and Dirk Muders, both collaborators on the program. This telescope, located at 10,600 ft elevation, on Mt. Graham, 75 miles NE of Tucson, AZ, is part of the Mt. Graham International Observatory. She observed the M17 Giant Molecular Cloud region in CS (5-4) and C18O (2-1) to study very early processes of massive star formation. The first set of maps are now completely reduced and trace out a highly concentrated region of the molecular cloud, with spatial densities > 106 H2 per cm3. To learn a bit more about this program, which is sponsored through the National Science Foundation, click here.
Miriam Krauss left UC in August 2000 to start a job at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, as part of the Chandra Mission. In Fall 2002, Miriam began graduate work in the Physics Department at M.I.T. However, she is still working with Prof. Hanson on the analysis of near-infrared spectra of supposed Luminous Blue Variable stars.
The site of the future observatory was a 4 acre lot at the top of Mt. Ida, some 400 feet above the city of Cincinnati. On the 9th of November, 1843, the cornerstone was laid by John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States. Adams had a deep interest in astronomical science, and had tried unsuccessfully in 1825 to persuade Congress to found a National Observatory. Although 77 years old, and not in the best of health, Adams traveled to Cincinnati for the occasion because he felt that the founding of the Cincinnati Observatory was such an important step to be taken if the US were to become internationally recognized for its intellectual and scientific endeavors. It was at the dedication that Adams gave his last public speech. Mt Ida was renamed Mt. Adams following this event.
The Cincinnati Observatory is the oldest running observatory in the country. It is located just a few miles outside of downtown Cincinnati. In May, 1998, it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark for being the first public and the longest running observatory in the nation. For more information on tours, telescope viewing, and other astronomy activities, see the Cincinnati Observatory's web site HERE