The Mid-Infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph, METIS, has officially passed its Preliminary Design Review for the European Southern Observatory 39 meter Extremely Large Telescope. The University of Michigan Department of Astronomy is participating in this instrument consortium with our international partners, and will participate in the Science Team to use the instrument when it is commissioned, planned for 2028. The IRIS Lab, part of the FEPS Research Group efforts, is helping to assess the Geosnap detector for use in METIS. We look forward to working with the METIS Team, and the rest of the Department of Astronomy to help METIS make amazing discoveries in the future.
As part of limited re-opening of research labs at the University of Michigan, following re-start of some economic activity in the state of Michigan, the IRIS lab has commenced limited operations. All work is being done in accordance with the regulations of the Envrionmental, Health, and Safety Office of the University of Michigan. This includes use of personal protective equipment by staff, twice daily disinfecting of equipment used, and appropriate physical distancing in the building. For the moment, we are operating with only one staff member in the lab at a time. We also hope to operate our Michigan Infrared Thermal Test ELT N-band (MITTEN) cryostat remotely after re-configuration this week. Our main goal is to continue testing the Geosnap mid-infrated detector for future use in the MIRAC-5 camera destined for the 6.5 meter MMT (with the MAPS adaptive optics system) in Arizona, as well as the Magellan Clay Telescope (with MagAO) in Chile. Below is Prof. Meyer’s health check sticker from June 4 upon entering the building, representing permission to reopen the IRIS lab.
Prof. Meyer was a guest recently on the Everything Astronomy podcast, hosted by undergraduates at the University of Michigan. Topics discussed range from exoplanets, to careers in astronomy, to science funding. The first of three installments is now available. Check it out!
Prof. Meyer had the good fortune to present a public lecture on Friday, April 17, to the University Lowbrown Astronomers, an amateur astronomy club in Southeast Michigan that does a great deal of wonderful outreach and informal education in the community (in addition to being passionate observers of the night sky). Of course the event was virtual in these extraordinary times. About 50 people participated on-line and a recording of the event is posted here. The talk was entitled “A Wider Perspective on our World: Searching for Earth-like Planets”.
Marcia Rieke, Regents Professor of Astronomy and Astronomer at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona, is visiting this week. Marcia is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, well-known for her service work in the community helping to run panels for multiple decadal surveys of astronomy and astrophysics, and for receiving several professional several awards. She is also a leading instrumentalist and PI of NIRCam, the main 1-5 micron imaging camera for the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. Our recent group is involved in several guaranteed time programs through participation in the NIRCam and NIRISS Science Teams, Early Release Science Progams, and gearing up for Cycle 1 proposals due in early May. Marcia shared a public lecture February 26, which was well-attended as reported by the Michigan Daily even though we were in the middle of a late winter snow storm! Marcia also visited with the FEPS Team and will present the department colloquium February 27.
Thursday, January 30, NASA will send one final command to the Spitzer Space Telescope, switching it off for good. The 85 cm infrared member of NASA’s Great Observatories was launched in 2003 and made huge contributions to many areas of astrophysics including the discovery and characterization of exoplanets. Prof. Meyer led one of the first Legacy Science Program, Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems (FEPS) from which this research group takes its name! More information can be found in this on-line article. Prof. Meyer recently participated in a study to understand how to preserve multi-wavelength space telescopes in the future (NASA COPAG SAG 10 Study report can be found here).
Undergraduate researcher Nick Susemiehl and Prof. Michael Meyer attended the 235th meeting of the American Astronomial Society January 3-9 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nick presented a poster #170.10 entitled “The Orbital Surface Density Distribution and Multiplicity of M Dwarfs” while Meyer presented a short talk #122.06 entitled “AO-Assisted Ground-based Mid-IR Imaging in the JWST Era: MIRAC-5 with Geosnap”. Dr. Meyer also presented in sessions sponsored by the Cosmic Origins Program Analysis Group concerning JWST and the future of the Great Observatories at NASA, as well as running the Exoplanet Program Analysis Group meeting #21 which took place before the AAS. An important feature of the meeting was recognizing the contributions of Native Hawaiians to astronomical navigation and thinking about how to honor this tradition respectfully as the future use of Mauna Kea for astronomy is considered.
Former PhD student, Tim Lichtenberg, was honored with two prizes this past summer for his PhD thesis entited “Thermal Evolution of Forming Planets: Isotope Enrichment, Differentiation & Volatile Retention“. Tim was a PhD student at the ETH in Zürich, Switzerland and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Oxford in the UK. Tim was awarded the 2019 IAU PhD prize in Planetary Science, and shares the 2019 PhD award from the Astronomisches Gesellschaft. Well done Tim!
Michele Mayor and Didier Queloz share (half) of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. These Swiss astronomers are honored for their pioneering discovery of gas giant planets around normal (main sequence) sun-like stars (e.g. the discovery of 51 Peg b). Congratulations!