The 2016 Scialog: Time Domain Astrophysics conference brought together 57 scientists, including 45 Scialog Fellows and 12 facilitators, Oct. 13-16 in Tucson, Arizona, for extensive dialoging, networking and building new collaborations competing to pursue novel high-risk discovery research.
The Scialog Fellows formed 19 teams during the meeting and wrote two-page proposals “on the spot” for seed funding of high risk, blue sky ideas. The meeting reached its exciting denouement with each team making a five minute presentation of their proposal idea. Winning proposals will be chosen in a month by the Scialog Advisory Committee.
Keynote speakers included Vicky Kalogera, Northwestern University; Eliot Quataert, University of California, Berkeley; and Juna Kollmeier, Carnegie Institution for Science.
In his opening remarks, RCSA President Robert Shelton noted that collaborative teams winning Scialog competitions receive modest funding, compared to government funding. But he added, “We hope the value added here, especially for early career scientists, is for you to make new connections and new partnerships, new collaborations.” Shelton noted that even proposals that do not receive Scialog funding can still provide the basis for successful research projects funded by other agencies.
Scialog discussion facilitators for 2016 included the keynote speakers as well as Lars Bildsten, KITP, University of California, Santa Barbara; Todd Boroson, Las Cumbres Observatory; Suzanne Hawley, University of Washington; Robert Kirshner, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Christopher Kochanek, The Ohio State University; Shri Kulkarni, California Institute of Technology; David Silva, National Optical Astronomy Observatory; Keivan Stassun, Vanderbilt University; and Craig Wheeler, University of Texas at Austin.
In her keynote speech, Vicky Kalogera, a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration which is pursuing the direct detection of gravitational waves as predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, dealt with recent results and upcoming plans related to LIGO. In September 2015 the project’s twin interferometers, one in Livingston, LA, and the other in Hanford, WA, first detected gravitational waves emanating from the merger of binary black holes. News of this groundbreaking discovery required extensive verification and was not officially announced until February 2016. In September, three LIGO pioneers, Kip Thorne, Rai Weiss, and Ron Drever, were awarded the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway.
Kalgora, an astrophysicist whose LIGO work focuses on defining the parameters of the interferometers’ wave detections, briefly discussed how the overall shape of the signal and its frequency allowed scientists to determine what sort of event had occurred. Basically the amplitude (height) of the waves in space-time increased until the two black holes merged into one and the waves almost instantly died down. In addition, the signal’s frequency (distance between peaks) could indicate only the massive densities found in binary black hole systems.
She also told Scialog Fellows about plans for additional LIGO detectors, including one now officially approved by the government of India, and how LIGO detectors will form a worldwide network with other gravity wave detectors such as VIRGO, the European gravitational observatory, and KAGRA, another detector nearing completion in Japan.
Eliot Quataert’s keynote address dealt with massive stars and the key role they play in many areas of astrophysics, including fields outside of stellar astrophysics and time-domain surveys (e.g., galaxy formation and reionization). “Our understanding of the evolution and fate of massive stars is poor relative to their lower mass counterparts due to uncertainties in mass loss, rotation, the role of binaries, and the physics of core-collapse supernovae,” Quataert noted. He provided an overview of some of the puzzles in massive stellar evolution, highlighting some problems on which progress has been made and some that appear to be ripe for progress in the coming years.
In her keynote address, Juna Kollmeier, a theoretical astrophysicist, mused that by the 2020s, the availability of space- and land-based astronomical facilities will be “truly awe inspiring across all apertures and wavelengths.” Already, she noted, today’s astronomers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to data. Despite this, however, foundational problems in astrophysics (such as what is the mass distribution and multiplicity of stars and black holes? and what is the dark matter?) remain unsolved, Kollmeier said.
She went on to discuss the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which she pointed out has long played a leading role in understanding cosmology and galaxy formation. Kollmeier said the SDSS community is currently considering new tasks for wide-field surveys in an era of increasing data abundance. She encouraged Scialog Fellows to think about what observations are desirable with SDSS or similar facilities, and what theories they might be able to falsify within this framework.
Research Corporation’s highly interactive Scialog meetings have the goal of catalyzing new collaborations based on blue-sky ideas among Scialog Fellows. In December 2015, the Scialog review committee announced first round of Scialog: TDA awards. Then, 29 team proposals written during the 2015 conference resulted in six collaborative team awards totaling $560,000 for 13 Scialog Fellows. Members of those teams were on hand to report out on their progress so far. The 2015 teams were:
- Raffaella Margutti, Northwestern University; Brian Metzger, Columbia University; Ken Shen, University of California, Berkeley, “Bringing Novae into the Twenty-First Century”
- Laura Chomiuk, Michigan State University; Dimitrios Giannios, Purdue University, “Catching the Emergence of a Supernova Years After the Gamma Ray Burst”
- Gregg Hallinan, California Institute of Technology; Nick Law, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Monitoring Extrasolar Space Weather with the LWA and Evryscope”
- Sean Couch, Michigan State University; Nathan Smith, University of Arizona, “Nuclear Burps and Belches: Presupernova Eruptions in 3D”
- Nick Law, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Jennifer Sokoloski, Columbia University, “Professional-Amateur Collaboration: Enhancing the Scientific and Societal Value of Evryscope”
- Leslie Hebb, Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Suvrath Mahadevan, Pennsylvania State University; John Wisniewski, University of Oklahoma, “Transformational Technologies and Techniques for High Precision Photometric and Spectroscopic Stellar TDA”
“Research Corporation chose to focus this Scialog on time domain astrophysics because we believe this critical area of science is on the cusp of major breakthroughs,” said RCSA Senior Program Director Richard Wiener. “Just as firmly, we believe these breakthroughs can be accelerated by astronomers, astrophysicists and data scientists working collaboratively on novel high-risk projects, particularly with theorists and observers combining efforts.”