UCF Astronomers appear on NBC

In a “Science Behind the News” segment, Joe Harrington and Csaba Palotai discuss their research on how an atmosphere responds to the impact of a comet or asteroid. Very timely stuff given the recent DA14 flyby and the Chelyabinsk bolide! You can watch the 5 minute segment here.

UCF Experiment Wins Free trip to the International Space Station

A University of Central Florida experiment that could help explain how planets formed in our solar system has won a free ride to the International Space Station in 2013. Physics professor Joshua Colwell’s experiment is one of eight winners of the Space Florida International Space Station Research Competition sponsored by Space Florida and NanoRacks. Read the full story at COSNews.

Whizzing Asteroid Turns Rocket Scientists’ Heads

International leaders in asteroid and comet research are gathering at the University of Central Florida in Orlando Friday, Feb. 15, for a special “viewing party” that will climax with asteroid 2012 DA14 zipping between Earth and orbiting communication satellites (within 14,000 miles of Earth). The asteroid, the size of a city block, will squeeze by Earth’s atmosphere and the geostationary satellites orbiting the planet. It will be the closest fly by in history. Read the full story at COSNews.

UCF Discovers Two Nearby Sub-Earth-Sized Exoplanet Candidates

The UCF Exoplanets Group is pleased to announce the discovery of two new transiting planet candidates (UCF-1.01 and UCF-1.02) orbiting the red-dwarf star GJ 436.  The objects are 2/3 the diameter of Earth, making them the closest rocky exoplanets and the only ones within 100 light years.  They were found by UCF Graduate Student Kevin Stevenson while he was analyzing Spitzer Space Telescopedata for GJ 436b, a Neptune-sized planet in the same system.

Read the entire story at : UCF-1: Two Tiny Exoplanet Candidates

Transit of Venus Event

On June 5, Venus will pass directly between Earth and the Sun. This alignment is fairly rare — this is the last time it will happen until 2117! What we’ll see from Earth is a little black spot of Venus slowly make its way across the Sun’s face. Robinson Observatory and the Astronomy Society will be setting up telescopes with solar filters on the top of Parking Garage A for the public to see the event. It lasts from 6 pm to 8:15 pm. No need to come right at 6, and no need to stay for the whole event. Also, no need for RSVP. Just show up and take a look! We’ll also have eclipse glasses for your to borrow while you’re there.

Successful Ph.D. Dissertation Defense: Kevin Stevenson

Congratulations to Kevin Stevenson on the successful defense of his Ph.D. Dissertation.  His dissertation on “DETECTING AND CHARACTERIZING EXOPLANETS: THE GJ 436 AND HD 149026 SYSTEMS” included analyses of over two dozen eclipses and transits of exoplanets in two separate planetary systems, all measured by the Spitzer Space Telescope.  Kevin discovered two planet candidates as well as characterizing the atmospheres of two known planets.  Chapter 1 of the dissertation was published in Nature, while two other papers have been accepted and are under revision, respectively, at The Astrophysical Journal.  Kevin is the second recipient of a Ph.D. in the Physics Department’s Planetary Sciences Track.  He was also named to the Order of Pegasus, UCF’s highest student honor.  His next mission: exoplanet spectroscopy with Prof. Jacob Bean in a postdoc at the University of Chicago.

Successful Ph.D. Dissertation Defense: Kévin Baillié

Congratulations to Kévin Baillié on the successful defense of his Ph.D. Dissertation on July 7, 2011. His dissertation on “Fine-Scale Structures in Saturn’s Rings: Waves, Wakes and Ghosts” included an analysis of stellar occultation data from Cassini and the discovery of more than a dozen new density waves. Kévin is the first recipient of a Ph.D. in the Physics Department’s Planetary Sciences Track.

PhD Dissertation Defense: Robert J. Macke, SJ

The dissertation defense of Robert J. Macke, SJ, takes place in MAP 318 at 10:00 am.  The defense is open to the public and begins with a 45-minute presentation of the work.  The thesis is entitled Survey of Meteorite Physical Properties: Density, Porosity and Magnetic Susceptibility and includes measurements of over 1200 meteorites from collections around the world.

GJ 436b: Where’s the Methane?

UCF Planetary Sciences graduate student Kevin Stevenson is lead author on a paper in the journal Nature that measures the atmospheric content of the Neptune-sized exoplanet GJ 436b.  It is the smallest exoplanet whose composition has been measured.  See our page for more details.