Astronomy Grad Student Receives Award from the American Astronomical Society

We are pleased to announce that Jessica Klusmeyer, a second year graduate student in our MA program, received a Chambliss Student Achievement Award from the American Astronomical Society at its 233rd meeting in Seattle, WA in January, 2019. The award recognizes her outstanding poster presentation at the meeting and her ability to discuss the research underlying it with professional astronomers who serve as judges. We note that Jessica was competing in the graduate division against many more senior graduate students enrolled in Ph.D. programs around the country. This is a wonderful achievement and we are very proud of her work and deserved recognition. Jessica’s research poster was entitled “A Deep Search for Five Molecules in the Debris Disk around 49 Ceti”. Her research advisor is Professor Meredith Hughes and she had a number of co-authors, including former Wesleyan post-doctoral fellow Kevin Flaherty.

The Seattle Meeting of the American Astronomical Society

It was amazing to see how many Wesleyan folks, past and present, were a part of the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. Here is just a partial list of contributors and attendees I ran into. Apologies to those I missed! Please add additional names and pics below.

Current Staff and Students: Roy Kilgard, Michael Henderson, Allison Quintana, Jessica Klusmeyer, Ismael Mirales, Anthony Santini

Recent Grads: Hannah Fritze, Aylin Garcia Soto, Prajwal Niraula

Recent Summer Students: Karina Cooper, Sadie Coffin, Aleezah Ali, Katie Chapman, Diego Garcia

Alumni: Amy Steele, Nicole Arulanantham, Colin Littlefield, Mark Popinchalk, Marshall Johnson, Emily Leitner, Anna Williams, Ken Rumstay, Taft Armandroff, Phil Choi, Anil Seth, Evan Tingle, Diana Windemuth, Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein, Clara Moskowitz

Former Staff: Vicki Sarajedini, John Cannon

Watching the eclipse from the top of the world

When I learned that a meeting of my division of the American Astronomical Society would be held in the path of totality of the August 21st eclipse, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Having never been to Idaho, my family and I planned a winding trip from Salt Lake City through Twin Falls and on to Sun Valley, where the meeting is being held.

On the morning of the eclipse, we woke to beautiful blue skies. We took the Challenger Ski Lift 3,000 feet up to the 9,100 foot summit of Bald Mountain, our viewing location for the eclipse. Sun Valley is near the southern edge of the 70-mile wide path of totality, so we would only get about a minute of darkness. With such a short eclipse, I planned on taking zero photos of the moment itself.

Ski lift
Going up!
Ski lift
My 6-year-old daughter, Tabetha, wife Amy, and sister Amy. Yes, that’s as confusing as you would imagine.
Mountain selfie.
Our surroundings for the eclipse, with the author obstructing the otherwise spectacular view.
We made many new friends on the summit, including this fella. I’m not sure what sort of caterpillar it is–any ideas?
For weeks leading up to the eclipse, we 3D printed pinhole projectors. Here you can see a crescent sun in projection.
Family photo
About a minute before totality and we’re all excited. (Although my daughter may have been more excited for the visit she received from the tooth fairy earlier on our trip!)
Moments before totality, several parasailers took to the air!
This was the only moment during totality when I wasn’t looking at the sky.
Totality again.
During totality, but the hills in the distance to the east are still in sunlight!
An iPhone shot of totality from eastern Idaho. (Photo courtesy Jason Westlake.)

The moment of totality is indescribable. As an astronomer, I knew that I would see the corona–the Sun’s tenuous outer atmosphere–but I wasn’t prepared for how it would make me feel. One of the things I’ve always loved most about astronomy is the beauty of the universe. You don’t have to know about stellar evolution to appreciate the arcing tendrils of a supernova remnant. But so many astronomical images are not what the objects look like to our eyes. The corona is different. It’s as magnificent as the best pictures of it you’ve ever seen, but the only way to see it is to be in a tiny geographic area at exactly the right moment… and get really lucky with the weather. I took a brief moment to look around the sky and see Venus and a few bright stars in the daytime sky–always there but hidden by the light of day.

And then, with a flash of light on its edge, the Sun returned. All the emotion, the elation, the joy came pouring out. Everyone was hugging and crying, high-fiving and whooping. It’s a remarkable coincidence of nature that our Moon and Sun are nearly the exact same size in the sky. Were the Moon larger or closer to the Earth, we would still have eclipses but the magic of the corona would be obscured. Any smaller or further away, and all eclipses would be partial. To experience such a rare cosmic event from such a beautiful place in the world was humbling and awe-inspiring.

And now the work begins. I will spend the next few days at my conference. Learning, working with collaborators, sharing results, but the conversation will always turn to the eclipse.

Totality from Lee Carpenter
Another shot of totality. This time from Rabun County, GA. (Photo courtesy Lee Carpenter.)


Solar Eclipse Viewing at VVO, August 21st starting at 1pm

Come to the Van Vleck Observatory on August 21st, 2017, to see the partial eclipse of the Sun! We may not be in the narrow path of totality, but we’ll still be able to see 65% of the Sun disappear. We will have telescopes set up at 1pm. The eclipse begins around 1:20pm with mid-eclipse falling at ~2:40pm.

In addition to telescopes and eclipse glasses for safely viewing the Sun, you can also tour our historical exhibition and see images from the 1925 solar eclipse that passed directly over Wesleyan and learn about Wesleyan’s expedition to New Hampshire for the 1932 eclipse.

You can read about the 1925 eclipse here. 

1925 Eclipse over Middletown
The 1925 total solar eclipse over downtown Middletown. (Collections of the Van Vleck Observatory)

2017 Sturm Lecture

The 2017 Sturm Memorial Lecture

Speaker: Dr. Daniel Eisenstein, Harvard University

Date: Monday, April 3, 2017, 8:00PM

Where: Ring Family Performing Arts Hall, Wesleyan University

Reception and telescope viewing at the Van Vleck Observatory to follow the lecture.

Celebrating Van Vleck Observatory’s 100th Birthday!

On June 16, 2016, one hundred years to the day of the dedication of Van Vleck Observatory, the Astronomy Department hosted a Centennial Symposium and reception. Over one hundred people — about 1/3 alumni, 1/3 current Wesleyan staff and students, and 1/3 community members, including Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford members, attended. The Symposium program is available here. At the reception, we were treated to music of the early 1900’s by the West End String Quartet and Centeni-ale from our master brewer Roy Kilgard. Costumed visitors from the past, including such luminaries as George Ellery Hale and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (played, respectively, by Professor of Physics Lutz Huwel and Professor of Romance Languages Ellen Nerenberg) mingled among us. For more information and pictures visit the University blog.

See Mae Jemison Give the Sturm Lecture on April 19th at 8pm!

Mae Jemison is the 2016 Sturm Lecturer and will be giving a public lecture next Tuesday, April 19th at 8pm in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall (formerly the CFA Hall).  Her talk is entitled, “Exploring the Frontiers of Science and Human Potential”.  She is a former astronaut, served in the Peace Corp, is a physician by training, majored in engineering and African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford, is a fierce advocate for STEM education, and is currently leading the 100 Year Starship Project… and that is just some of the things she has done.

Tell your friends, family, classmates, and encourage all to come see her speak.  There will be a reception following the public lecture at the Observatory (and the telescopes will be open if it is clear).



Our new Diversity Journal Club

Editor’s note: I’m posting this on behalf of Kevin Flaherty, postdoctoral scholar in our department. You can find his web page on diversity in astronomy here. -RK

Diversity has been a popular topic of discussion on campuses across the country. In Astronomy, we are particularly aware of diversity, or the lack thereof, within our own field. 73% of astronomers are men, and 83% are white [1]. Recent months have seen headlines exposing professional astronomers across the country for their sexual harassment of students. Clearly we have some work to do…

But there are signs that things are getting better. The American Astronomical Society has made strong statements in the past year reaffirming that harassment has no place within astronomy [2] and in support of policies that increase diversity within graduate programs [3]. Our department is home to members of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy, and the newly-formed Working Group for Astronomers with Disabilities. Over the last fifteen years the students in our Masters program were 81% female, and over the last five years, 60% persons of color [4].

And as of this semester, we have started a Diversity Journal Club. Inspired by similar efforts across the country [5], the focus of a Diversity Journal Club is on discussing published research on demographics, sources of bias, methods to counteract bias, as well as topical issues such as the ongoing Thirty-Meter-Telescope construction controversy. By using social science literature, we can tackle some of these complex topics in a venue where students, faculty and postdocs are able to freely share their ideas and experiences.

Honestly, I was hesitant at first to start this meeting, given the stretched schedule everyone already faces. Who has the extra time to spend reading psychology papers? But the enthusiasm from the faculty and students is overwhelming and bodes well for the future. I am looking forward to a semester of fruitful and informative discussions!

  • Kevin


Wesleyan Astronomy Well Represented at AAS Meeting

Many Wesleyan staff, students and alums attended the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society from Jan. 4-9, 2016, in Kissimmee, FL. Here are a few pictures from the event including research posters by current students Girish Duvvuri and Jesse Tarnas, as well as post-doc Wilson Cauley. Also shown are former students Amy Steele, now in the Ph.D. program at U. Md. and alums Josh Wing, Evan Tingle and Marshall Johnson, who stopped by Roy Kilgard’s poster to say “Hi”. Marshall is just finishing his degree at U. Texas.


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