Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

microacg
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Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby microacg » Sun Mar 24, 2013 12:55 am

I've been reading summaries of the various research being done by astronomy/astrophysics departments at U.S. Universities in my region. Most projects focus on things outside of our solar system, whether it be investigating the big bang, studying black holes, or searching for extrasolar planets.

I've recently begun researching (just reading books/articles) near earth objects and how far we have progressed at detecting them (even a bit about what we might do when faced with a threat of impact). If you are going for a phd in physics or astronomy, is it possible to focus on this topic? Are there schools/departments that do work in this area? I've already resigned myself to the fact that this would involve lots of coding.

What I've seen from places such as NASA's NEO program is that most work on this topic seems to be done by organizations that are not based out of academic institutions http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/links/. Are there any schools/programs which are known to allow you to study asteroids/comets and their relationship to Earth?

stengah
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby stengah » Sun Mar 24, 2013 1:21 am

Definitely! But this type of research is often done in Earth and Planetary Science departments. One of the most prominent schools for this is the University of Arizona, which has a department dedicated to planetary science, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory as they call it. But also check out Arizona State (School of Earth and Space Exploration), Caltech (Earth and Planetary Science), MIT (Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences), and the University of Tennessee (Earth and Planetary Sciences). There are many more, but all of these schools do research in asteroids/comets etc. The study of Near Earth Objescts (NEOs) is a very hot topic right now, especially due to some recent events!

TakeruK
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby TakeruK » Sun Mar 24, 2013 1:39 pm

Yes, Arizona's Lunar & Planetary Laboratory is a top program, even though you may or may not think of the University of Arizona when you think of "top programs".

Caltech doesn't have Earth & Planetary Sciences -- it's actually called Geological & Planetary Sciences (GPS). I'm actually in that program right now and doing similar research to what you are interested in (i.e. bodies inside the Solar System). My undergrad thesis (in Canada) was focussed on NEOs specifically.

If you are only interested in detection/dynamics/origins of these objects and nothing else, then sometimes the researchers will be working in Astronomy departments rather than Earth/Geological & Planetary Sciences. However, in schools with big planetary science programs, the researchers might work in the Planetary Science department or be in both! In addition, if you are interested in more than just the "physics" (for example, composition, comparisons with the material that made up the Earth and other planets, etc.) then you should be looking at Planetary Science programs!

The work isn't all coding. I don't think it's any more or less coding than any other data analysis work. I definitely do a lot of coding and I enjoy it! But I've also needed to learn dynamics (in order to write the physics into the code, you must first know the physics!) as well as actual data collection (from telescopes).

Finally, I don't know if universities actually do specific research in preventing/avoiding/coping with asteroid impacts. I think that kind of work is often left to other agencies outside of academia. From my experience talking to many NEO people, the majority of us do work that "advise" other agencies regarding NEO impact risk by doing things like:

1. Detecting NEOs through surveys (to understand what is out there, how many of each size etc.)
2. Characterizing populations of NEOs (so that when we find an NEO, we can categorize/classify it)
3. Characterizing compositions of NEOs (being hit by a rock made of pure iron would be very different than one made of silicates!)

However, as you mention, JPL is a big player in this field. Although JPL isn't a university, you might know that JPL is actually run by Caltech (under contract from NASA). Many graduate students here at Caltech GPS work closely with JPL scientists and some faculty members here have adjunct status at JPL (and vice-versa). It's actually not too rare for students to work with scientists outside of their home institutions (but usually they have a main supervisor at their home school and this works better when the institutes are nearby -- Caltech and JPL are only 30 mins apart).

You could also try to attend the "Division of Planetary Science" (DPS) annual meeting (in the Fall) -- they have entire sessions planned around "Small Bodies", which include things like asteroids, comets, NEOs, KBOs, and so on! Or, maybe you can dig up past abstracts submitted and figure out who is doing interesting stuff and then trace them back to their home institutions.

Anyways, there's definitely a lot of NEO / Solar System research going on at schools. You might be a little bit harder pressed to find academics working on things to directly related to NEO impacts but there are a lot of work to be done in further understanding NEOs and thus indirectly improve our ability to handle NEO impact risk.

microacg
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby microacg » Sun Mar 24, 2013 3:08 pm

Thanks both of you for the detailed replies!

stengah: I'm finding it difficult to find schools that do relevant work. Even from your list I'm finding it difficult to locate evidence that there is research being done on NEO's. At U Arizona there is a professor which seems to specialize in it, but at Arizona State I've looked through their research and I cannot find anything similar to NEOs.

What I'm interested in studying can't even be isolated to one department... this makes the research very time consuming and frustrating! I guess that's just how these things go. I have many many hours of research ahead of me, and possibly a large number of communiques with department contacts in my future.

TakeruK: Based on your close ties to what I'm asking about I sent you a private message with a question about this field. For the record, I am much more interested in, as you say, detection/dynamics/origins than the 'non-physics' such as composition etc.. Unfortunately this means I can't restrict most of my research to the planetary science programs.

What stinks is I'm in the NYC area and there doesn't seem to be much in this area (the closest being MIT).

bfollinprm
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Mar 24, 2013 4:31 pm

LSST and Euclid are the big future players in the near earth asteroid detection. Look inside those collaborations, the science data will be coming online at a perfect time for someone starting their PhD in the next 2-3 years.

stengah
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby stengah » Sun Mar 24, 2013 7:09 pm

You might also want to check this out http://www.iaaconferences.org/pdc2013/?q=home. This is a small conference entirely dedicated to what you are interested in. I think they have links to past and current papers regarding this topic.

The most active person I know of researching NEOs is Professor David Trilling, at Northern Arizona University. If you search his name on the SAO ADS website, you will find MANY papers covering NEOs. You can look at the coauthors too and see which universities they are at. Here is an example: http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.1009.

crw888
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby crw888 » Sun Mar 24, 2013 7:24 pm

While researching schools in preparation to apply, I noticed that the University of Western Ontario has a few of professors doing research on small bodies in the solar system, and specifically on their interaction with the Earth. This particular area of astronomy isn't my focus, so I can't really say whether it's a school you should look into.

TakeruK
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby TakeruK » Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:22 pm

In Canada, there are people doing small body research at the University of Victoria, UBC and Western University (University of Western Ontario has changed its name to this). The people I know at Victoria work more on Kuiper Belt objects and particularly different dynamical groups of the objects there. The people at UBC work on dynamics of both NEOs and KBOs/TNOs. The people at Western mostly work on meteoritics. They seem to be more interested in what they are made out of. Similarly, there are people at the University of Alberta and Mount Allison University that study meteorites as well. However, the people at Western also have a surveillance system to detect meteorites -- however, they can only find them once the meteorites have already entered Earth's atmosphere!

And, as I said in my PM to the OP, there are people at the University of Washington (Seattle campus) that specifically want to work on digging through LSST data (when it's available) to find moving objects. There are also other people, like Lynne Jones, who has experience finding small bodies. And, Tom Quinn is an expert in N-body work!

microacg
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby microacg » Wed Mar 27, 2013 6:45 pm

So I've been doing more research both into this research topic, and into PhD programs. It seems like in some cases, your best bet is to do a physics phd in a physics department that allows a specialization in astrophysics. At some Universities you would get an astronomy phd. At some Universities you would get a phd from the department of planetary science (or whatever similar title it has). Some universities have astronomy/astrophysics departments or specializations but do absolutely no work in this field according to their websites.

It seems like the suggestions I've been reading to trace people back to their home institutions and apply to their programs makes the most sense.

Let's say Professor X (hah) works at University Y in say, the Astronomy department. Assuming Y has separate astro/physics departments, would it be viable to get a phd in the astro department OR to get a phd in the physics department, and in either case do my research with the professor in the astro department? My understanding is, regardless of my intended research/specialization, the courseload offered by a physics department would be different from the courseload issued by an astronomy department, and that would of course be different from the courseload offered by a planetary sciences department.

TakeruK
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Re: Astronomy Programs Focusing on Earth

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 27, 2013 8:02 pm

microacg wrote:Let's say Professor X (hah) works at University Y in say, the Astronomy department. Assuming Y has separate astro/physics departments, would it be viable to get a phd in the astro department OR to get a phd in the physics department, and in either case do my research with the professor in the astro department? My understanding is, regardless of my intended research/specialization, the courseload offered by a physics department would be different from the courseload issued by an astronomy department, and that would of course be different from the courseload offered by a planetary sciences department.


You should check with each school to confirm the possibility of working for a prof in e.g. Astro department while being a student in a Physics department. Make sure you can work with people outside of your department (usually okay) but also check if Prof X might be formally a prof in Astro but also have adjunct status in Physics. This might make it easier for you to work across departments.

When you have this choice between departments, it's a case by case basis and you should talk to the profs to see if they have any particular suggestions. However, personally, I would prefer to be the department that would put my office in the same building as my prof's office. Also, you should look at the course requirements / oral exams requirements etc. and pick the one you like best. When I applied to PhD programs, I applied to PS departments in some places and Astro departments at others. I think the department you apply to could also affect your chances of admission (a dept might think you're a better fit elsewhere). Thus, it might also help to apply to the department where the prof(s) you want to work with is/are located.




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