From Rochester Institute of Technology: “Groundbreaking study of binary star evolution is focus of new NSF grant”

From Rochester Institute of Technology

July 24, 2020 [Sorry about that, folks. I do not make the news, I just report it as accurately as possible. That is the date they gave even though it is now 7.22.20]

Vienna McGrain

RIT/NTID professor Jason Nordhaus leads research team that aims to solve ‘one of the most challenging problems in stellar astrophysics’.

RIT/NTID assistant professor and astrophysicist Jason Nordhaus is leading a groundbreaking study of binary star evolution. Credit: Elizabeth Lamark.

A new grant will help researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf learn more about “one of the most challenging phases in stellar astrophysics,” according to the National Science Foundation.

The nearly $300,000 project, which incorporates research opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduate students, will revolutionize how scientists understand a crucial phase of binary star evolution that rapidly shrinks the orbit of two stars to 0.1 percent of the distance from the Earth to the sun in only one year. This is the main method for forming tight binaries in the universe, such as binary black holes, neutron stars, white dwarfs, and many other classes of objects. But scientists have never seen it happen.

Jason Nordhaus, an RIT/NTID assistant professor of physics and the principal investigator on the grant, is “beyond excited” to lead the first-of-its-kind survey that will allow astrophysicists to create the first observational constraints on the outcomes of what is called the common envelope phase.

Through the project, titled “Brief But Spectacular: New Windows into the Physics of Common Envelope Evolution,” Nordhaus and his team will be conducting an observational survey of all galactic star clusters within 1 kiloparsec of Earth to hunt for close binary systems. To do that, they will use data from NASA and the European Space Agency’s flagship space missions, TESS and Gaia, in addition to some of the largest telescopes on the planet—the Lowell Discovery Telescope in the northern hemisphere and the Magellan Telescopes in the southern hemisphere.

NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

ESA/GAIA satellite

Discovery Channel Telescope, operated by the Lowell Observatory in partnership with UMD, Boston University, the University of Toledo and Northern Arizona University, at Lowell Observatory, Happy Jack AZ, USA, Altitude 2,360 m (7,740 ft)

Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

“The common envelope phase is responsible for making the systems that will later merge and create gravitational waves,” explains Nordhaus. “Because only one star in our galaxy is experiencing this phase at any time, we have never directly seen it. However, close binaries in clusters act as a Rosetta stone, allowing us to map the conditions right before the common envelope phase to the conditions right after the phase is over.”

As part of this three-year project, several deaf and hard-of-hearing RIT/NTID undergraduates will help conduct research at Boston University each summer. Philip Muirhead, co-PI on the project, is the director of graduate admissions for Boston University’s astronomy department. Nordhaus and Muirhead will work together on best practices for supporting those students successfully in the summer. Also contributing to the project are Maria Drout, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Toronto, and Jeffrey Cummings, associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

“This new venture that Dr. Nordhaus is taking on will lead to discoveries beyond our imagination,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “This work also provides a tremendous opportunity for our young deaf and hard-of-hearing science students to work in a research setting and be a part of this remarkable project.”

See the full article here .


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Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is a private doctoral university within the town of Henrietta in the Rochester, New York metropolitan area.

RIT is composed of nine academic colleges, including National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The Institute is one of only a small number of engineering institutes in the State of New York, including New York Institute of Technology, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It is most widely known for its fine arts, computing, engineering, and imaging science programs; several fine arts programs routinely rank in the national “Top 10” according to US News & World Report.

The Institute as it is known today began as a result of an 1891 merger between Rochester Athenæum, a literary society founded in 1829 by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and associates, and Mechanics Institute, a Rochester institute of practical technical training for local residents founded in 1885 by a consortium of local businessmen including Captain Henry Lomb, co-founder of Bausch & Lomb. The name of the merged institution at the time was called Rochester Athenæum and Mechanics Institute (RAMI). In 1944, the school changed its name to Rochester Institute of Technology and it became a full-fledged research university.