After the first hugely successful meeting at UEA last year, this year UCL will host the 2nd meeting of the SPINS-UK Consortium. MSSL has a particularly strong involvement with this event: Prof. Silvia Zane is one of the scientific organisers, whilst postdoc Ziri Younsi along with PhD students Nabil Brice and Tom Kimpson all on the local organising committee. In addition to an extensive programme of scientific talks covering a range of neutron-star related science, there will also be discussion to address Brexit and the impact on scientific research and a public lecture (http://www.spins-uk.net/public-lecture.html) on gravitational waves by Prof. Alberto Vecchio of the University of Birmingham.
Many of our Astro PhD students partake in other projects outside of their area of research. Ahlam Al Qasim (a 2nd year PhD student) and Aisha AlMannaei (a 1st year PhD student) are both working on Cubesat RAAD (Rapid Acquisition Atmospheric Detector), a mission recently funded by the UAE Space Agency through winning the Mini-satellite competition held last year. The competition was seeking out proposals from university students across the UAE for a science mission to be integrated on a Cubesat, with a launch opportunity in 2020. Their mission is aimed at studying the phenomenon of Terrestrial Gamma-Ray Flashes (TGFs), which are highly energetic events emitted via thundercloud activity in Earth’s atmosphere. Ahlam is the student PI of the science case and TGF simulations, and Aisha is the student PI for the detector development. Here, they discuss how the project was initiated and eventually extended to a fully funded mission, and what their current roles are.
Cosmic rays are rays of energetic particles and radiation, with their composition in our own Galaxy being dominated by protons. Ellis Owen, a final-year PhD student working on cosmic rays, star-formation and galaxy evolution, tells us about his research on them.
Every year in the Italian Alps, the renowned Tonale Cosmology Winter School takes place. This school brings together PhD students, Master’s students, and Post-docs in Cosmology from across the world, allowing them to share ideas and informing them of the state-of-the-art. One of our first year PhD’s, Anurag Deshpande, was fortunate enough to attend. He reports back on the school.
Not all PhD students join us directly after finishing their Master degree studies. Anurag Deshpande, a first year PhD student, spent a year working at the European Space Agency (ESA), as a Young Graduate Trainee (YGT). With the application process for the next round of YGTs now open, he discusses his time working on the James Webb Space Telescope, how he found the experience, and how it continues to influence him in his PhD research.
Cosmology is in pretty bad shape; we don’t know what makes up 95% of the Universe. Galaxies spin too fast and the expansion of the Universe is unexpectedly accelerating. Cosmologists deal with this by inferring the existence of dark matter and dark energy. These form the backbone of the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (LCDM) model. The problem is that we have no physical explanation for the existence of these two components.
You may be considering applying for a PhD at MSSL and want to know more about what it’s really like here. Some of our new students answer questions about how they are finding life as a research student here at the lab. Anurag, Choong Ling, and Nabil joined the Astrophysics group in this September.
The release of Gaia radial (line-of-sight) velocities in DR2 represents for me the first fruits of 17 years of work in the Gaia project. Such is the timescale of a mission as demanding, and different, as Gaia. I knew from the start, at mission adoption in 2001, that this would be a remarkable endeavour, not only from the scientific and technical perspective, but also from the long term working relationships and comradery that engaging deeply with it would entail.
The Swift UVOT team at MSSL find surprisingly bright UV emission from the first ever visible counterpart to a gravitational wave event. Here is their story… from Paul Kuin
Historically, astronomy has played a key role in the development of science and technology while also having a large cultural impact. For example, explaining the orbits of the planets was important for understanding that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the centre of the solar system; that had an enormous impact on our view of our place in the Universe. During the ‘space race’ and the cold war, when astronauts took the first photos of a spherical earth, it was the first direct evidence that the Earth was a sphere, just another planet. Such images emphasise the isolation of the Earth in space, and perhaps underline the fragility of the Earth’s ecosystems. Direct evidence of a greenhouse effect can be seen from Venus, which has been a ‘hot topic’ (excuse the pun!) in international policy in the last few decades. Also, understanding of our early Universe after the big bang has been found using telescopes such as WMAP and Planck. However, most astronomers also contribute their skills and knowledge to industry and culture in less well known ways. This blog post tells a less well known story, that modern wireless technology (which you are probably using to read this very blog post!) was developed by mathematicians, engineers and radio astronomers.