Ever since the first time we could detect x-ray sources in space, we have been fascinated by the question of what could be generating such intense radiation. It turns out that accretion – particles falling towards a dense object like a black hole, neutron star, or white dwarf – is the main engine that produces x-rays. But the story doesn’t end there. Second-year PhD student Nabil Brice tells us more.
At the centre of all galaxies, there are giant black holes. These objects, known as active galactic nuclei, are some of the most powerful objects in the Universe. Sam Grafton-Waters, a third-year PhD student at MSSL, who studies these, tells us more.
Dust is a very important element present everywhere in the Universe. In particular, dust attenuation absorbs, scatters and re-emits light. Nevertheless, not much is known on how dust affects light from galaxies at high redshift, since it is difficult to observe them. Mónica Tress, a final-year-PhD explains more about how dust attenuation effects are studied in galaxies far away.
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.
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.
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
At the end of June, we had the opportunity to work at MSSL with Dr. Ignacio Ferreras for one week. As college (high school) students interested in pursuing careers in science and/or engineering, this was the perfect opportunity for us to not only get a taste of what research is like at the frontiers of science, but also to experience in first person the daily life of a scientist.
The Swift satellite, part of which was built at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, detected the remarkable Gamma-ray Burst (GRB) 130427A about 3 years ago. This burst has the highest fluence (energy divided by surface) of the over 1000 events detected by Swift and indeed by any space observatory for 30 years.