Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for March 6, 2012

Coming soon!

We’re working on compiling a useful how-to guide for the newly arrived to Chile. Stay tuned!

My Star-Called Life

Well, you seem to have accidentally clicked on a link that has brought you to a little page on my geeky astronomy work. Don’t worry, you’ll find that life will be a lot more interesting if you click that little ‘Back’ button in your web browser. What? You clicked on my astronomy link on purpose? Alright then, if you really need to get to sleep that badly then I suppose you can read on about my experiences in the exciting field of astrophysics, but consider this sufficient warning! 😉

My undergraduate research work was a hodge-podge of different astronomy subjects. I tried to spread my research experience between as many different areas as I could, though despite my best efforts some subjects such as star formation and exo-planets have still slipped through my grasp. My main research project was on investigating dynamical and chemical links between the largest star complexes found orbiting our Milky Way galaxy, and relatively newly discovered objects known as ‘ultra-compact dwarf galaxies’. Following this work up, I then assisted in analyzing data from one of the largest surveys of the Kuiper Belt conducted to date known as the Canada France Ecliptic Plane Survey. The Kuiper Belt is a collection of cold, icy debris leftover from the Solar System’s formation, and orbits the Sun beyond the planet Neptune. The main conclusion from my work (only a tiny part of the overall study) was that the ‘hot classical’ and ‘detached disk’ components may in fact be two sides of the same coin! A conclusion only an astronomer could love.

Switching gears a little, I then conducted a small research project involving the geriatric years of a star’s life by employing some really cool numerical simulations. By this, I mean I simulated (through the use of some way-cool code and a way-powerful computer) the life of a star not too unlike our Sun during its final death-throes, but before it casts off its outer layers to live out the rest of eternity as a white-dwarf star. Of course, if said white-dwarf star has a companion, then that’s a whole other story which (for now) I won’t get into. Finally, to pass the time (and to afford the odd food-pellet) during the last eight months before moving to Chile I helped with one last study measuring properties of several million galaxies based on something called ‘broad-band photometry’. The results of this work are still being put together by my last supervisor, but the final measurements will hopefully shed light on what kinds of progenitor stars (the aforementioned white dwarfs with companions) are behind a particular type of supernova known excitingly as ‘Type Ia’.

Now that I’ve started my doctoral work, things have come around full circle so that I may work once again with my first supervisor, Thomas. This means I will continue to study massive star clusters, whether they be the somewhat controversially named ultra-compact dwarf galaxies (controversial because we’re just not sure if they should be called galaxies), hot, bright and blue young clusters that have just recently formed, the tight former cores of dwarf galaxies that have been gravitationally stripped of their outer layers, or the ancient, quiescent globular cluster systems that quietly orbit around the Milky Way and (as far as we can tell) all other galaxies.

I’ll sporadically add to this section as note-worthy developments like data breakthroughs, finished papers, new proposals and such come around but it probably won’t be a daily thing. But if anyone has any questions, or if you find any of this even remotely interesting, please do comment! If there’s one thing astronomers love, it’s people that love astronomy!