The Catholic University of America

Jan. 8, 2010

CUA Astronomers Present Research at Leading U.S. Conference



Three CUA scientists have participated in research involving the Kepler space telescope, which is searching for planets that circle stars in our galaxy. (Graphic courtesy of NASA)


At the largest astronomy conference in U.S. history — the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held in Washington, D.C., earlier this week — 20 Catholic University physics professors, astronomical research scientists and graduate students participated, most of them giving scientific presentations or chairing conference sessions.

All of these CUA professors and a large fraction of the research scientists and graduate students do their research with the support of NASA or the National Science Foundation, mostly at and in cooperation with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

One of the main scientific highlights of the meeting was the discovery of five planets orbiting distant stars, identified by the first scientific results from the Kepler space telescope that NASA launched in March 2009 on a mission to find Earth-size planets outside our solar system.

Three CUA scientists — physics Professor Fred Bruhweiler, Research Associate Ekaterina Verner and Adjunct Professor Yoji Kondo — participated in the Kepler research and are co-authors of an article on the initial Kepler findings that has been accepted for publication in the prestigious journal Science.

“Though the five planets discovered so far have been very large and too hot for life to exist on them, it’s predicted that the 3 ½-year Kepler Mission will discover approximately 200 planets similar to our Earth,” says Bruhweiler. “If this mission is successful, the planets detected could have water and could be suitable for development of life.”

On the last day of the AAS meeting, CUA Associate Professor of Physics Duilia de Mello chaired a special session of 10 different presentations on the subject of the shapes of distant galaxies and what those shapes indicate about the evolution of galaxies. On the same day, Ekaterina Verner chaired two sessions, one of them on recent scientific findings of Chile’s Atacama Cosmology Telescope, which is studying the cosmic microwave background that is the afterglow produced by the Big Bang.

“The AAS winter meeting is the place where astronomers come to tells others what they’ve done during that year and what that work is going to lead to in the future,” says De Mello. “It’s the main conference where astronomers advertise their work, get recognition for it, start new collaborations with other astronomers, do networking and offer jobs to young Ph.D. holders who studied astronomy.