Dr Anne’s Log: Encounters of the Astro Kind

‘we do cutting edge science research, write about it, give talks…..and a couple of times a year we jet-set to locations worldwide.’

Following on from the previous post, I’m afraid to say that this is the reason for my blog silence – many apologies!

Since I last updated you it has been all systems go here at StarFormMapper. For my part in the project, I have been developing a new statistical tool called INDICATE (‘INdex to Define Inherent Clustering And TEndencies’). This tool, which will eventually be available to the public, quantitatively tells user how spatially clustered stars are in the Galaxy’s stellar nurseries. This is really important for SFM as we need to know if there are differences in the way young stars behave in there natal environments.

Unlike other jobs, simply creating a tool like this is not enough in the field of astrophysics. We even have a catch phrase: ‘Publish or Perish’, meaning you need to regularly publish your results for other scientists to review or you will make yourself unemployable(!)… So like any good astrophysicist who wants to remain employable this is exactly what I’ve been doing: writing a paper to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, giving talks, presenting posters and networking at conferences/workshops about INDICATE. Most recently I attended MODEST’17 conference last week in Prague, Czech Republic which was great fun! And if you ever wondered what I look like, here I am presenting a poster:

Anne Buckner presenting INDICATE at MODEST’17, Prague, Czech Republic

(Yes, I love bright colours)

Well I’m afraid to say I must once again be off, but if you were traumatised by my absence (as why wouldn’t you be 😉 ) check out our twitter @SFM_Project for frequent, if not short, updates in between blog posts.

 

Dr Anne’s Log: The Debriefing (Stardate 2017.48)

There is a lot of mystery and misconceptions on what the day-to-day job of ‘Astrophysicist’ is like. Some think we are a bunch of old Einstein-looking guys who sit around the blackboard all day discussing the Universe. Others (such as my estate agent, despite repeatedly being told otherwise) are convinced we are some kind of vampire-type creatures who sleep all day and come out to work only after dark. The majority of people I meet however, are not quite sure what we do – infact after the usual stunned silence I get when answering their question ‘what do you do for a living?’, comes the follow up ‘Wow, ok, so what does an Astrophysicist do?’.

Well we do a lot of different things!

On a normal daily basis, you will probably find us in our offices (during daylight hours) at a computer either doing cutting edge science research, writing about it, reading about someone else’s, coding, meetings, answering emails and/or teaching students. On a regular (but not daily) basis you will find us doing public talks and events. And a couple of times a year we jet-set to locations worldwide.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly! It comes as a surprise to many, but your typical astrophysicist is a seasoned traveller. Mostly, this is for conferences and workshops such as the one StarFormMapper held in Spain last week. You would be forgiven for assuming we have these worldwide for the sake of it – but actually its because there are so few of us (~10,000 worldwide, compared to e.g. ~20,000 ambulance workers in the UK alone) and we are scattered across the continents, so if we want to get together to discuss topics face-to-face travel is involved!

And so last week StarFormMapper hosted a workshop called “ Star Cluster Formation: Mapping the first few Myrs ” to discuss (you guessed it) the formation of star clusters with about 30 scientists. There were so many interesting talks from observers and theoreticians alike, with stimulating discussion and a fascinating public talk on gravitational waves. These sort of events are essential in our line of work – emails and Skype really cannot compare to face-to-face meetings where everyone is working towards a common goal, but looking at and approaching it in infinite different ways and perspectives, perhaps even in ways you’d never dreamt of…so refreshing! Not to mention useful – you can quite easily go into these discussion with a problem you have been wrestling with for sometime, and come out with a solution. As such, StarFormMapper is planning annual workshops, with the next one in Summer 2018 in France, and the UK in 2019.

Want to check out what we discussed at our workshop? We’ve dedicated a whole section of the website to it here: http://sfm.leeds.ac.uk/madrid-workshop-2017/about/

Dr Anne’s Log: Hailing Frequencies Open (Stardate: 2017.24)

A very famous physicist once said:

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

and like pretty much everything else, Albert Einstein was right about this too.

In astrophysics sharing our findings with the public in an easy to understand way is really important to us, because after all what is the point of discovering all these wondrous things about the Universe if you never tell anyone about them? In fact, its so important its one of the work packages of the SFM project! So I thought I would give you a summary of what’s been happening on this front and let you know how you can get involved if you want to 🙂

Well firstly, have you noticed the new look of the website? Kinda hard to miss huh! We’ve redesigned the website to make it more user friendly (and pretty haha). We also now have a twitter (@SFM_Project) so hit that follow button for 140-character updates.

Then there’s Soapbox Science and Art Leeds for which I am collaborating with Dr Eirini Boukla, an artist from the University of Leeds School of Design, to produce a SFM research inspired art piece to accompany a talk I will be giving on said research at the Leeds Light Night Festival later this year (updates will be posted here and on Twitter). For those of you unfamiliar with the festival, Leeds Light Night is an annual multi-arts and light festival which takes place over Leeds City Centre over two nights in October. SFM is honoured to have the opportunity to take part and we hope to see you there!

Until next time this is Dr Anne Over and Out 😉

Begoña: “Do you ever look up at the stars and try to contemplate the ends of the universe?”

– Ruth Ahmed, When Ali Met Honour

My name is Begoña, and I just started my internship at Quasar. I am an undergraduate at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, finishing my Physics degree. Since I always loved astrophysics, I got really excited when I was given the opportunity of helping here with the project.

Quasar is developing the software needed for the SFM project, making the Gaia and Herschel database more accessible for the current and future research. Also, we are preparing the Workshop that will take place in June.

Looking forward to learn a lot in these months.

 

Dr Anne’s Log: Meeting the Crew (Stardate 2017.03)

“We are sorry to announce this train has been cancelled”

… are perhaps the 10 most dreaded words in the English language when you are trying to commute to/from work. Although, for anyone who has lived in south London in the past 12 months, these words are not at all unfamiliar and like an good south Londoner I had a back up plan: the Tube. Yes, I was back in London, having travelled down from Leeds for a 2-day StarFormMapper (SFM) project meeting.

As explained in my first post, the SFM project is an EU funded collaboration between the University of Leeds, University of Cardiff, Grenoble Alpes University and Quasar Science Resources SL whose objective is to better understand the mechanisms that underlie both how massive stars themselves form and how their natal star clusters form and evolve around them. To do this we need to take a multiple-attack approach, combining both theoretical and observed data to get a full-picture of what is physically going on. So Leeds and Grenoble handle the observational part, Cardiff the theoretical part, and Quasar the hardware & software architecture part of the project.

As you can imagine, when multiple institutions are working towards a common goal, continuous good and open communication is essential. Hence every 6 months all the people working on the project get together for an in-person meeting. The one I was attending was the second since the start of the project, and the first which included all the newly hired researchers/developers.

And I’m pleased to report the meeting was a great success! There was a talk from each of the partners on what they had been up to (all very promising and interesting might I add). For my contribution I discussed my research on finding substructure within star clusters. Essentially, the structure of young and old star clusters are quite different. In older star clusters (such as those you see if you type ‘star cluster’ into google images) the stars are pretty nicely radially distributed, with a high density towards the centre of the cluster which decreases with increasing distance from the cluster centre in any given direction. However in younger clusters you do not necessarily get this central concentration of stars, and instead get multiple smaller concentrations throughout the cluster (this is called ‘substructure’). One of the big challenges of this field up until now has been lack of data, but with GAIA and Herschel we hope to make some major head-way!

If you are interested in seeing a star cluster with your own eyes (rather than just through google) here’s a seasonal guide to keep you busy until my next blog post 😉 www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/celestial-objects-to-watch/open-clusters-by-the-season/

Dr Anne’s Log: First Contact (Stardate 2016.90)

I never fail to be awed by the sheer beauty and scope of nature, how it has so much more depth beyond the superficial surface that can be seen by our eyes. But then again, I guess I wouldn’t be a very good scientist if I didn’t have an insatiable need to explore and understand the world around me – it kinda comes with the job description.

Today the source of my awe was Earth’s atmosphere: soaring high above the clouds I was greeted by a magnificent image of a peaceful bright blue sky above, and raging black storm clouds below. O how I regretted not packing an umbrella. Or a raincoat.

As luck would have it the storm had passed by the time I landed, although the dark grey clouds that filled the Edinburgh sky continued to look ominous for the remainder of the day. So why was I in Scotland? Well today the Royal Observatory was hosting a workshop on GAIA (the new space observatory of the European Space Agency). Essentially, the purpose of workshops such as these are to be a ‘how to’ for professionals, familiarising us with the technological specifications, time-lines to mission completion, known issues with equipment (etc.) in addition to giving us tips and tutorials on effective tools/software to analyse the data. Suffice to say they are pretty invaluable.

In short, I had a great day and learned some pretty important stuff. For example, astronomers can precisely determine the distance to stars by measuring their ‘parallax’ (a star’s apparent movement against the background of more distant stars in the sky caused by the change of the Earth’s position as it orbits the Sun). Normally, the distance of a star is equal to 1/parallax – an equation which is so fundamental its considered Astronomy 101. However, if this equation is used with the GAIA data it will potentially produce inaccurate distances to stars. Thus if astronomers wish to determine star distances from their GAIA parallaxes we will need to employ a more sophisticated approach. As I said, the workshop was exceptionally useful!

Anyhoo, I must get back to my research on finding star clusters within star clusters (more on that in the next blog post). If any non-astronomers out there are interested in finding out more about the GAIA mission, the ESA scientists have written a simple overview of its mission which can be read here: www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia_overview (theres no maths – I promise!)

Quasar: SFM at the ADASS Conference in Trieste, Italy

Quasar Science Resources introduces in its poster contribution the virtual infrastructure proposed for the StarFormMapper (SFM) H2020 project in which Quasar participates.

The goal of the StarFormMapper (SFM) project is the study of galaxy evolution through the mechanisms that underlie massive star and star cluster formation. The project combines data from two of ESA’s major space missions, Gaia and Herschel, together with data from ground based facilities.In this work Quasar describe the proposed hardware and software architecture, what we have called the Dynamic Evolution Added Value Interface (DEAVI), a Virtual Infrastructure to take care of the development and production environment for the project based on Linux desktops and servers.

The full contribution will be published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) as part of their Conference Series.

Dr Anne’s Log: Mission Start (Stardate 2016.81)

There it was. After months of searching, I sat staring at the screen with a massive grin on my face. Did I just win a competition, find a rare item at auction, receive notification of some kind of windfall? No, I found something infinitely better – the StarFormMapper project AND they were in the process of hiring a postdoc!

I suppose I should explain that last sentence: the StarFormMapper project is an EU funded collaboration between the University of Leeds, University of Cardiff, Universite Joseph Fourier Grenoble, Universite Grenoble Alpes and Quasar Science Resources SL. Its MO is to use a combination of data from the ESA space missions GAIA and Herschel, alongside other satellite and European-led ground-based observations, to map the density distribution of star formation regions. This in turn will enable the mechanisms that underlie both how massive stars themselves form, but more fundamentally, how their natal star clusters evolve around them to be identified. Ultimately, the project will underpin studies of how all galaxies evolve. With a background being in observational star cluster analysis, it is not an over-exaggeration to say that this project is a PERFECT fit with my research interests, skills and abilities. So I applied.

Fast forward two months, I received an offer for the postdoc position on the project at the University of Leeds which I accepted with much joyful high-pitched squealing (to the detriment of my partner’s hearing might I add).

That brings us to today, my first week on the job. My arrival in Leeds was successful and surprisingly smooth. Moving upto Leeds from London (and having never visited Leeds before) I was unsure what to expect, even after extensive reading. I am pleased to report that everyone here is very friendly, actually much more so than down south (having pleasant and frequent conversations with strangers is something I will need to get used to), despite the notably colder temperature. Being my first week, there’s not much to report yet science-wise so you will need check back here in a few weeks for an update!

Until then, why not keep yourself amused by following me on twitter (@Starry_N3bula) where (amongst other things) I am known to make science puns, periodically.