TCNJ physics majors Dean Klunk, Louis Miller, Michael Pedowitz, and Michael Polania as well as biology majors Ashley Fernandez and Skylar D’angiolillo presented their research undertaken with Dr. Lauranne Lanz and Dr. Mariah MacDonald at the recent American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Seattle.
Dean Klunk, Louis Miller, post-baccalaureate researcher Isabella Carlton, and Dr. Lanz presented posters on research to better understand the activity of supermassive black holes using X-ray observations. Dr. Lanz’s poster summarized a recent paper published by the Astrophysical Journal on activity measured using short Chandra X-ray Observatory observations of 12 post-starburst galaxies, which required developing a new methodology called forward-modeling. Louis showed early results extending this work to an additional 30 galaxies with archival Chandra observations, and Isabella used much deeper observations taken with the XMM-Newton Observatory to extract and fit spectra of two post-starbursts, confirming the forward-modeling results. Dean showed the results of implementing modeling of the background in this methodology using Swift/BAT galaxies. Dr. Lanz also presented in a splinter session on the possible breadth of science on galaxies that could be achieved with a proposed X-ray telescope called AXIS.
Dr. MacDonald’s four students, Skylar D’angiolillo, Ashley Fernandez, Michael Pedowitz and Michael Polania gave talks on the results of their research on exoplanet dynamics. Skylar showed that the unique dynamic interactions between two of the planets in the Kepler-305 system, known as mean motion resonance, allowed an estimation of their masses, such that one planet is likely to be terrestrial, two are likely mini-Neptunes with extended atmospheres, and the last planet has an inflated atmosphere with a bulk density less than water. Ashley and Michael Polania presented their results of the resonant system Kepler-80, using dynamics to measure the mass and orbit of its outermost system and examining the possibility of an additional planet in the system. Michael Pedowitz discussed the stability and habitability of planets orbiting two stars over a billion years, finding that most planets orbiting stars of similar mass are too cold to host Earth-like life and that most of these planets experience large temperature fluctuations on very short timescales (ΔT > 50 K, t ≈ 40 days), requiring more in-depth radiative transfer modeling to fully explore their habitability. Dr. MacDonald gave two talks: one focused on the results of ungrading PHY 162 Astronomy: Planets and the lessons learned in applying this technique to a large, liberal learning STEM course; the other discussed a new software created to identify, confirm, and characterize resonances, which was applied to 66 new resonant systems.
Two recent graduates also presented their results at AAS. Nick Tusay (class of 2020; now a graduate student at Penn State) gave a talk on his work searching for signatures of technology use with SETI observations. Nikhil Patten (class of 2021; now a graduate student at University of Wyoming) presented a poster on spectra of massive stars that power bowshock nebulae.