August 02, 2017

Steve Kraemer, chair of The Catholic University of America Department of Physics and director for the University’s Institute of Astrophysics and Computational Sciences, is part of a team of astrophysicists from around the world that was recently awarded observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA awarded Kraemer’s team a $100,000 research grant as well as 21 orbits of time, with each orbit equaling approximately 96 minutes, to use the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph to better understand the outflow of gases, or winds, from regions surrounding supermassive black holes. Using the telescope, the team hopes to capture images and spectra of quasars, highly energetic active galaxy nuclei that are powered by such supermassive black holes. By learning about the winds, the team hopes to better understand the interaction between black holes and the galaxies surrounding them.

Kraemer’s team includes 14 collaborators from seven countries, including scholars from Georgia State University; Beijing University; the University of California, Riverside; Tel Aviv University; Durham University in England; the University of Copenhagen; and the Naval Research Lab. Once the observations have been taken, Kraemer said he will likely hire a Catholic University graduate or post-doctoral student to help analyze the data.

“We’re very excited about getting these new data,” Kraemer said. “These observing programs are pretty hard to get, since only about one in eight proposals are accepted. We’re hoping these data will tell us whether black holes are really producing the energetic winds needed to explain interactions between black holes and their host galaxies.”

Physics professor Tommy Wiklind was also awarded observing time as part of a project he is involved with for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. He was awarded three orbits of observing time to study the organic molecules in a galaxy that is seven billion light years away. The galaxy was originally observed with ALMA. By observing with the unique ultraviolet wavelength range of the Hubble telescope, Wiklind and his team hope to learn more about the galaxy, including how massive it is and when it was formed.

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