Beyond the eclipse: IU has long been a leader in astronomy: IU News

IU Astronomy Ph.D. student Robert Howard speaks to the audience during an open house at IU Bloomington's Kirkwood Laboratory. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University

While the total eclipse will darken Indiana skies during the April 8 solar eclipse, it will shine a spotlight on the Indiana University Bloomington campus. The brightest of that spotlight falls on the campus' resident astronomers: faculty and students in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Astronomy.

One of about 30 dedicated astronomy departments in the country, IU Bloomington has a long history in the field. One of the university's founding faculty members, Theophilus Wiley, taught astronomy to the first graduating class of 1830. Another early faculty member was Daniel Kirkwood, a mathematician who discovered the „Kirkwood gaps,” empty spaces in our solar system's asteroid field.

Department of Astronomy Chair Caty Pilachowski points out a sun spot projection created by the solar telescope inside the Kirkwood Observ...

Astronomy Department Chair Katie Bilachowski points to a sunspot projection created by a solar telescope inside Kirkwood Observatory at IU Bloomington. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

The department's current impact is part of this early foundation in astronomy, said Katie Bilachowski, department chair and IU astronomy professor. The country's smallest Ph.D. Although one of the presenting fields, it has a strong research record.

„Because we're a small department, we're very focused, very specialized,” Bilachowski said. „This is evident in our research output and impact.”

A major strength of the astronomy department is interstellar and interstellar astrophysics—a continuation of Kirkwood's mathematical legacy, he said. This includes the physics of star formation in galaxies, and other astronomical phenomena such as stars and star clusters, as well as the role of black holes in preventing star formation in galaxies.

Extraterrestrial Science

The field has recently expanded into the rapidly growing field of exoplanet astronomy, or the study of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. These planets, which were completely unknown 30 years ago, Currently the number is over 5,000.

Among IU's contributions to extraterrestrial science is the research of Chonggu Wang, assistant professor of astronomy. His work has revealed strong evidence that the first discovered exoplanets — a Jupiter-like world orbiting remarkably close to its star — are not as isolated a phenomenon as previously thought. The department also recently welcomed astronomer Cristobal Petrovich, who researches the formation of exoplanets. Petrovich joined as part of IU Faculty 100 effort.

High performance computer

Astronomy is another area of ​​excellence High performance computer application.

Understanding astronomical phenomena using this technology has been pioneered by Marshall Wrubel in using high-performance computers to model interstellar atmospheres, Bilachoksi said. Wrubel was a professor of astronomy Founder of IU's Computing Research CenterEstablished in 1955 and originally located in the basement of Swain Hall West.

Students and faculty use newly installed tape machines at the IU Research Computing Center in Swain Hall West in a

Students and faculty use newly installed tape machines at the IU Research Computing Center in Swain Hall West. Photo from the October 1958 edition of the Indiana Alumni Magazine. IU researchers are among the first to use high-performance computing for astronomy. Photo courtesy of IU Archives

„High-performance computing really took off in earnest around this time,” Pilachowski said. „Wrubel was one of the first to use high-performance computers to create realistic models of interstellar atmospheres—the layers of gas around stars through which light passes—to calculate their spectrum.”

The astronomy department is one of the top users of IU's high-performance computing capabilities, including the Big Red 200 supercomputer, said Scott Michael, director of software and solutions for research technologies at the university's Information Technology Services. Indeed, IU researchers' easy access to the university's vast processing and storage capabilities is an important part of Vrubel's lasting legacy, he said.

„Wrubel was a pioneer because he saw the promise of this technology for everyone across the university,” said Michael, who holds a Ph.D. in astronomy. „We don't operate as a cost center, so we can truly support science across IU, regardless of discipline.”

Counting the stars

Currently one of the projects supported by IU's high performance computing resources Blanco DECam Bulge Survey. Bilachowski is leading the NSF-funded study, which seeks to map the „galactic bulge” by collecting and analyzing data from more than 75 million stars in the Milky Way.

IU astronomers are also involved in an effort with Research Technologies Simulates the evolution of star clusters. Led by Enrico Vesperini, associate professor of astronomy, the project models the behavior of millions of stars over time.

IU astronomy research also relies on the university's massive digital storage capacity. The department uses UITS services for hosting The world's largest database of accurate information about galaxies, for example. The NASA-funded project, led by Assistant Professor of Astronomy Samir Salim, contains data on 700,000 galaxies. This resource has been used to inform hundreds of astronomical studies around the world.

Telescopic ambitions

As a founding member of the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOIRLab Consortium, IU astronomers today gather the majority of their research data fr...

As a founding member of the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOIRLab Consortium, IU astronomers today collect much of the research data from the WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Photo by Georg Weingrill via Wikimedia Commons

as a platform One of the country's first robotic telescopes, IU has also been a pioneer in telescopes, Bilachowski said. Professor of Astronomy R. Led by Kent Honeycutt, IU installed the „RoboScope” at Morgan Monroe State Forest in the late 1980s, primarily used to make fully automated observations of white dwarf star systems.

Most of IU's astronomical data currently comes from the WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, and Bilachowski. As a founding member of the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOIRLab Consortium, IU's astronomy department has access to more than 50 nights of observing time at the telescope each year.

Research supported by this resource includes a study of star formation in galaxies throughout the cosmos, led by John Salzer, professor of astronomy; and a probe to investigate the physical processes within stars of lithium, beryllium and boron and by measurement of their surfaces, led by astronomy professor Constantine Delianis. Catherine Rhode, associate professor of astronomy, uses the excellent image quality of the WIYN telescope to find faint galaxies in and around the Local Group, the collection of galaxies that make up the Milky Way.

IU Asteroid Project

https://news.iu.edu/live/news/The Link Observatory in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest was the site of one of the country

The Link Observatory at Morgan-Monroe State Forest is the site of the nation's first robotic telescope operated by IU. It also played an important role in the IU Asteroid Project. Photo by Liz Kay, Indiana University

Indiana University played a role in another historically significant astronomy project, Blachowski said. From 1949 to 1966, the IU Asteroid Project Made photographic plates of 12,000 asteroids whose locations were lost during the worldwide interruption of routine astronomical observations during World War II.

The project also led to the discovery of 119 new asteroids and several new minor planets in Earth's solar system. The program's observations were made with a 10-inch astrograph — or telescope designed for astrophotography — at the site of the Link Observatory in Morgan County, which is now operated by the Indiana Astronomical Society.

The upcoming eclipse

For the 2024 solar eclipse, IU scientists are doing more than educating the public about the event; During that time they play an important role in collecting important scientific studies.

The Department of Astronomy is one of the three regional coordinating sites for Citizen CATE. Citizen CATE, a project funded by NASA and NSF, aims to capture a nearly hour-long video of the Sun's corona during an eclipse. .

„As the Midwest regional coordinator for the project, we will help the work of others studying the properties of this region of the Sun,” said Bilachowski. „We're in the middle of everything.”

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