Armagh Observatory Consolidated Grant 2015 - 2018

Lead Research Organisation: Armagh Observatory
Department Name: Astronomy

Abstract

This research combines studies of our Sun, Solar System, and Stars (including the evolution of single and binary systems), and the role played by stars as tracers for our understanding of the wider Universe.

Brown dwarfs, thought just a few years ago to be incapable of emitting any significant amounts of radio waves, have been discovered putting out extremely bright beams of radio emission. The study of these apparent 'runts' of the main sequence menagerie could hold vital clues to solving long standing conundrums in conventional coronal astrophysics.

A key uncertainty in our knowledge of stars is the role of binarity and the interactions of one star with another during their evolution. In this case, at different times, material from one star can flow onto the other (and sometimes vice versa), and more rarely two stars may collide to produce a single more massive object or sometimes a gigantic explosion called a supernova. Such stellar collisions are called mergers, and they lead to objects with unusual chemical composition which contain a 'fossil' record of the two stars' joint history or (in the case of a supernova) to an object with short-lived properties that can be used to probe the most distant parts of the Universe.

A second aspect of our research concerns the measurement of stellar magnetic fields and the impact of magnetic fields on a star's evolution. The reason why some stars are magnetic, and others less so, remains a mystery, and our work aims to provide reliable data with which to compare the different ideas. A third is the origin, evolution and fate of the most massive stars in the Universe. Their evolution is dominated by powerful stellar winds. Do such stars explode disruptively at the end of their lives, or do they ultimately collapse to produce black holes; and, in either case, what is the effect of the stellar wind on neighbouring stars and the nearby star-forming regions? This work will significantly advance our understanding of stars.

Our work on the Sun - our nearest Star - has implications not just for understanding stars generally but also for how processes in our Sun's visible atmosphere produce the observed phenomena that ultimately leads to heating of its million-degree Corona and the formation of the Solar Wind. The Sun is a variable star showing a dominant roughly 11-year cycle of magnetic activity between episodes of sunspot maximum and minimum. It is currently observed continuously by a fleet of spacecraft, and our detailed observations from instruments onboard these spacecraft (which cover a very wide range of wavelengths) are designed to improve our understanding of the physics of the Sun's atmosphere and the mechanisms by which it produces occasional massive outbursts of mass and energy. Some of these outbursts have huge power, and can lead not just to the visible appearance of aurorae in the Earth's upper atmosphere but to potentially damaging effects on spacecraft and large-scale power systems on Earth. The variable magnetic activity of the Sun has broad implications for Earth's place in the near-space environment.

Lastly, we seek to understand the origin of our planetary system, and the evolution of the small bodies - comets and asteroids (and their debris) - within it. We will study the Trojan asteroids in the orbits of the major planets, for example those of Jupiter and Mars, to test theories of the origin of the Solar System and to understand better how small bodies evolve with time. We will also investigate the detailed processes by which comets decay into meteoroid streams, debris from which may occasionally cross Earth's orbit to produce the well-known phenomenon of a meteor shower - the burning up of small pieces of cometary material in the Earth's atmosphere. Not only are there interesting scientific reasons to study such objects and their interrelationships with each other in the Solar System, but the study of Earth's near-space has important practical benefits.

Planned Impact

Our research in Stellar Astrophysics encompasses a wide range of detailed investigations into the formation and evolution of stars, taking into account factors such as mass loss through stellar winds, stellar oscillations, stellar magnetic fields, extreme chemical abundances, and the impact of binarity on our understanding of the evolution of stars and galaxies. The work impacts on many areas of the subject, for example the evolution of ultra-compact binaries and how their study provides crucial input for understanding the first detected gravitational wave events with the study of the peculiar stars leading to a better understand of the chemistry evolution of the Universe.

Quiescent radio emission from ultracool dwarfs are orders of magnitude more than expected and is generally considered to be due to gyro synchrotron emission, however depolarisation and steady particle acceleration could cause electron cyclotron maser instability emission to have the observed low variability and polarization. Which of gyro synchrotron or depolarization of ECM is the correct interpretation is important for the study of ultra cool dwarfs as some observations suggest that there exists a clear dichotomy of magnetic field topologies. Radio observations can determine the magnetic strength and its topology in these objects.

Theoretical work on the structure of evolved objects such as sdB stars and R CrB stars is informed by detailed spectroscopic investigations of chemically peculiar stars. Systematic analyses of such stars, including surface chemistry, masses and Galactic distribution, allow us to develop improved models of the frequency and physics of white dwarf mergers in the Galaxy and their role in shaping its evolution.

In Solar Physics, the community is poised to answer a number of important scientific questions owing to synergy between Hinode and missions such as SDO, STEREO and RHESSI and IRIS, plus the excellent ground-based instruments. The present rise to solar maximum will allow us to obtain a much larger sample of focused observations than during the last few years, enabling us to identify how solar activity is driven and how it impacts on Earth and its environment.

Despite the fact that many hundred of exo-planets are now known, our Solar System still provides the best detailed tests of planetary system formation models. Although we cannot observe this happening directly, we can test models by comparing their predictions with the distribution of asteroids and comets. Our work also impacts on the origin and evolution of objects in the inner and outer Solar System; comparative planetology; and meteor physics. The study of interplanetary matter is important for developing an understanding of how planetary systems work: it illustrates a process of decay and replenishment that has necessarily occurred throughout the life of the Solar System. Secondly, given the importance of space missions to society, the economic benefits are substantial. The space industry will benefit from improved detailed knowledge and understanding of the near-Earth and interplanetary environment. Meteoroids are a potential hazard to the long-term robotic and human operations in deep space envisioned under the Global Exploration Roadmap to which the UK subscribes through the UKSA. Finally, public understanding of science benefits greatly from news stories describing research on disintegrating comets and meteor displays. This also applies to our work on the radio emission from ultracool dwarfs which have properties similar to the auroral radio emission of the magnetized planets of the Solar System. Such work should lead to more interaction between these two different research groups, but also be of great interest to the public.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description See the selected papers.
Exploitation Route Further modelling.
Sectors Other

 
Description Armagh Observatory Consolidated Grant 2018-2021
Amount £250,000 (GBP)
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2021
 
Description High end computering 
Organisation Sejong University
Department Astronomy
Country Korea, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, using their super computering facility to reduce data.
Collaborator Contribution Providing access to their computers.
Impact Publications in press.
Start Year 2015
 
Description A SOLAR-POWERED ASTEROID NURSERY AT THE ORBIT OF MARS, 18th October 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Web article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://star.arm.ac.uk/press/2017/MarsTr_Oct17_pr.html
 
Description ASTRONOMERS FIND ORBIT OF MARS HOSTS REMAINS OF ANCIENT MINI-PLANETS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Web article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://star.arm.ac.uk/press/2017/mars_trojans_pr.html
 
Description Beyond Limits 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Discovery of the first new extreme helium star for 40-year 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Notes on a webpage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.armaghplanet.com/blog/discovery-of-the-first-new-extreme-helium-star-for-40-years.html
 
Description Dynamical Model Atmospheres and Emergent Spectra for Pulsating Proto-Subdwarfs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Dynamical Model Atmospheres and the Pulsations of V652 Herculis 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Heavy Metal Stars: Crazy Composition, Puzzling Pulsation and Chaotic Kinematics 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Heavy metal subdwarf 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Notes on a webpage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://blog.oup.com/2017/01/heavy-metal-subdwarf/
 
Description K2 spots a rotating helium star 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Notes on a webpage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.armaghplanet.com/blog/k2-spots-a-rotating-helium-star.html
 
Description MARS' TROJANS SHOW REMAINS OF ANCIENT PLANETOID 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Web article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.universetoday.com/134871/mars-trojans-show-remains-ancient-planetoid/
 
Description Mars Trojans may be part of a planet that was destroyed long ago April 25th, 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Web article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.newscientist.com/article/2128781-mars-trojans-may-be-part-of-a-planet-that-was-destroyed...
 
Description Probing Pulsation Physics by Resolving Dynamical Structure in the Photosphere of V652 Herculis 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Probing Pulsation Physics by Resolving Dynamical Structure in the Photosphere of V652\ Herculis 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Remains of ancient "mini planets" in Mars's orbit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Web article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://blog.oup.com/2017/04/ancient-mini-planets-in-mars-orbit/
 
Description South Africa & SALT Observations Hot Subdwarfs and Other Evolved Stars 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Sun's light touch explains asteroids flying in formation behind Mars 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Web article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/sun-s-light-touch-explains-asteroids-flying-formation-behind-...