Awards Database

Scialog: Collaborative Teams - 2017

Mansi  Kasliwal

Mansi Kasliwal

Astronomy, Caltech

Jennifer Sokoloski

Astronomy, Columbia University

The Shocking Reality of Dusty Cataclysms

A plan, hatched at a 2015 Scialog (“science” and “dialog”) conference of astronomers and astrophysicists, to build an advanced infrared telescope to explore an increasing number of interesting phenomenon is getting a funding boost.

And the timing couldn’t be better. Astronomers say the dynamic infrared sky is ripe for exploration, noting the SPIRITS -- SPitzer InfraRed Intensive Transients Survey -- has just discovered 37 unusual “transients,” which are rapidly changing stars due to explosions or other events, in 200 nearby galaxies.

These new discoveries may include: the birth of massive binary stars; stars that are creating shockwaves in nearby clouds of dust and gasses; stars that are rapidly merging with giant dust clouds; the collapse of white dwarf stars; and the births of black holes. Telescopes using visible light are often blind to these events, while infrared telescopes, which detect light waves at frequencies too low for humans to see, can peer through clouds of dust and gasses that often surround transients.

Mansi Kasliwal, California Institute of Technology, and Jennifer Sokoloski, Columbia University, formed a team and won a funding competition that will allow them to continue building the infrared telescope first conceived at a Scialog conference in 2015. The team’s goal is to build a wide field infrared imager to determine whether the same shocks which produce gamma rays in novae (exploding stars) can also solve the decades-old problem of how dust forms in novae. The new telescope is located at the Palomar Observatory.

Kasliwal and Sokoloski’s recent funding comes from the 2016 Scialog: Time Domain Astrophysics conference, held late last year in Tucson, Arizona. There, 50 leading young astronomers and astrophysicists, joined by 10 distinguished senior scientists, engaged in intensive discussions designed to produce creative ideas for innovative research.

“Scialog aims to encourage collaborations among theorists, experimentalists and computational scientists,” said RCSA Program Director Richard Wiener. “We want to catalyze the development of a community in which theory and observation work together to achieve understanding of fundamental phenomena.”

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