University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


PBS NOVA Special - first results from JWST

March 2, 2023


The James Webb Space Telescope has provided scientists with previously unimaginable details of galaxies millions of light years away. Now astronomers including the University of Virginia’s Aaron Evans are using the stunning images and data to study what’s happening at the cores of other galaxies. Read more here:

Watch a preview of the episode here:

Two astronomy faculty win Research Achievement Awards

February 3, 2023

Ilse Cleeves and Steve Majewski have received a 2022 Research Achievement Award from UVA. Read more here:

Artemis I Tees Up Manned Mission to the Moon

January 27, 2023

UVA Today sat down with Matt Pryal, a University of Virginia assistant professor of astronomy, to discuss the success of Artemis I. Read more here:

Dr. Anne Verbiscer looks for oceans on Pluto

January 13, 2023

“Pluto’s huge nitrogen-ice-filled basin, Sputnik Planitia, is a dominant feature on the dwarf planet,” said Dr. Anne Verbiscer, who is a research professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia, along with being the Deputy Project Scientist and a Co-Investigator on NASA’s New Horizons. “It’s the brightest (most reflective) area, with unique composition, and holds clues to the possible existence of a sub-surface ocean. And our current ‘recipe’ for life as we know it, includes liquid water. So, the possibility of liquid water beneath the surface of Pluto makes it intriguing for astrobiology and finding life beyond Earth.” Read more here:

Current and former students sculpt the "Local Bubble"

January 12, 2023

University of Virginia undergraduate student, Theo O’Neill, along with former students, Jiwon Jesse Han and Catherine Zucker, recently created the first 3-D map of the Local Bubble’s magnetic surface. Read more here.

UVA Astronomy Is Hiring

November 22, 2022

UVA Astro welcomes new faculty member: Maryam Modjaz

November 3, 2022

Maryam Modjaz joins UVa Astronomy as Full Professor after being faculty at NYU.

In a form of "stellar forensics" investigation, she and her team of stellar death detectives are pinpointing the stellar progenitors and the explosions conditions that lead to the various forms of stellar death in different kinds of massive stars, be they Supernovae, Gamma-Ray Bursts or the new classes of mysterious transients. She uses some of the largest telescopes on earth, as well as NASA telescopes in space, for her work and is especially excited about the upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory+LSST, which will make a movie of the southern sky and uncover exciting and unknown phenomena. 

Recently, Modjaz and her theory collaborator Prof. Kerzendorf (MSU) received a large NSF grant for unraveling the progenitors of Stripped Supernovae via a synergy between unique early-time observations of Stripped SNe and their detailed spectral synthesis modeling with machine-learning methods. At UVa, she is part of the Exploding Stars and Time-Domain group of faculty. 

She is also passionate about the people behind the science. She is a strong advocate for diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI),  as part of the UVa Astro DEI committee and in her former role as director for DEI at NYU Physics.

Her hobbies include being silly with her 5 year old and dancing, and she is searching for salsa and samba dance spots in Cville.

Rising Scholar Postdoctoral Fellowship

October 18, 2022

Rising Scholars Postdoctoral Fellowship Program | The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences  


Review of applications will begin January 16, 2023.  

Rising Scholar Postdoctoral Fellowship, Department of Astronomy

In consort with the Rising Scholars Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Mellon Foundation, the UVA Department of  Astronomy seeks applications from underrepresented scholars to work in any of the active areas of research in the Department, and with a demonstrated interest in race, justice, and inclusion in research, teaching, and service. Candidates who received (or will receive) their terminal degree between August 24, 2020 and August 24, 2023 are eligible to apply.

The goal of this program is to provide a mentored professional development opportunity to train the next generation of scholars for future tenure-track positions at UVA or elsewhere.

The successful candidate will be appointed for two years as a 12-month research associate; reappointment to the second year will occur following a performance review. The position will offer a competitive annual salary, research funds, and full benefits, including portable retirement contributions. The appointment may be extended to a third year depending on availability of PI-driven funds in the intended research area. The department will also develop a tailored mentoring plan to ensure future success in the discipline.


Please contact Phil Arras, Department Chair, with any questions.

UVA Astronomer Discusses Successful NASA DART Test

September 28, 2022

Astronomer Matthew Pryal of the University of Virginia was among the many excited onlookers who checked out NASA’s livestream Monday to witness the space program perform the seemingly impossible feat of striking a moving asteroid from 6.8 million miles away. The Earth was never in danger. Instead, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, served as a demonstration in the interest of future planetary defense. Read more here: Q&A: ASTRONOMER DISCUSSES SUCCESSFUL DART TEST, AVOIDING FUTURE ‘ARMAGEDDON’

Matt Pryal speaks on Artemis Moon Mission

September 1, 2022

After a 50-year absence, NASA is aiming to go back to the moon.

The space agency has dubbed its newest lunar program “Artemis,” after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, with three flights planned to the moon: an initial unmanned flight, currently scheduled to launch on Saturday; a manned flight with four astronauts in orbit around the moon, launching no earlier than 2024; and then the final flight, in which two members of the crew will land on the moon’s surface, tentatively in 2025.

Matt Pryal, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia, said he was drawn into the field by Joe Durkin, his ninth-grade earth and space science teacher, who had an infectious passion for astronomy. Read more...

UVA Astronomers on James Webb Telescope First Light

July 15, 2022

Professor Kelsey Johnson and Assistant Professor Matt Pryal give their inital reactions to the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

UVA Astronomy Student Joins Ranks of Astronaut Scholars

July 7, 2022

Theo O’Neill will continue exploring space as an Astronaut Scholar.

“I think astronomy is fascinating because of the sheer scope of topics involved,” said O’Neill, a rising fourth-year astronomy-physics and statistics major at the University of Virginia. “The enormous range of physical and energetic scales encompassed in this one field, from the behavior of individual grains of dust to the dynamics of interacting galaxies, is incredibly awe-inspiring.”

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was created in 1984 by astronauts from the Mercury 7 program to encourage university students pursuing science. The scholarships are valued at around $15,000 each and they provide an opportunity to develop relationships with astronauts and scholars.

More info:

Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan wins the 2022 Grand Prix de la Francophonie

July 5, 2022

French Academy (Académie Française) has recently announced that the University of Virginia’s Astronomy Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan was the laureate of the Grand Prix de la Francophonie. Read more...

Nitya Kallivayalil receives All-University Teaching Award

May 11, 2022

Nitya Kallivayalil receives All-University Teaching Award for 2022.

Associate professor of astronomy Nitya Kallivayalil’s nominator wrote that she “does not place her roles of teaching, mentoring, and efforts towards diversity and equity in different silos.” She has developed a long-term collaboration with Spelman College’s Physics Department, enabled by an NSF/CAREER grant, with the goal of encouraging future STEM leaders from under-represented groups. Spelman students have come to UVA for each of the past five summers to do research with Kallivayalil.  

Kallivayalil has students generate their own mini-research proposals. “My teaching philosophy has focused on two major factors affecting modern day society: the fact that our world is increasingly run by large amounts of amassed data, i.e., databases; and the lack of diversity in science, technology and math (STEM) fields.”

More info here:

3rd-Year Undergrad Researcher Named Goldwater Scholar

April 11, 2022

Theo O’Neill wants to understand how stars are formed. They will now pursue their research as recently named a Goldwater Scholar. Goldwater Scholarships are awarded through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Defense Education Programs and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Read more...

UVA Astronomers Will Map the Unmapped in Outer Space

April 7, 2022

Three University of Virginia astronomers research projects were selected for the first cycle of the James Webb Telescope’s General Observer programs. Assistant professor L. Ilsedore “Ilse” Cleeves and postdoctoral fellows Yao-Lun Yang and Jon Ramsey of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Astronomy were awarded telescope time for their three separate proposals. Read more...

Ilse Cleeves Named Cottrell Scholar

February 24, 2022

Ilse Cleeves, astronomy, University of Virginia, is among 24 outstanding teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics, and astronomy named recipients of Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s 2022 Cottrell Scholar Awards. Each award is $100,000.    


Recipients are chosen through a rigorous peer-review process of applications from a wide variety of public and private research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States and Canada. Their award proposals incorporate both research and science education.


Read the full announcement. 

Cottrell Scholars from 1994-2021 


Research Corporation for Science Advancement, founded in 1912, is a private foundation that funds early stage, high-potential basic research in the physical sciences (astronomy, chemistry, physics, and related fields) at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.  


Dr. Ilse Cleeves stands in front of the historic McCormick Telescope

Professor John Hawley has passed away after a long fight with cancer

December 13, 2021


It is with incredible sadness that we announce the passing of Professor John Hawley after a long fight with cancer. In addition to being a brilliant scientist and dedicated advocate for the Astronomy Department and UVA as a whole, John was a valued mentor and colleague, and his sharp wit will be missed. 


John received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1984. After a Bantrell Prize Fellowship in Theoretical Astrophysics at CalTech, he was hired at UVA in the Astronomy Department in 1987. His 15 years of leadership here were comprised of Department Chair for two terms, Associate Dean for the Sciences for two terms, and as AD for Academic Affairs and Senior AD for Academic Affairs these last two years. 


John's primary research interest was the physics of gas accretion. While accretion is ubiquitous in the universe, the physical mechanism that drives it was not well understood. In our daily lives, when water comes out of a tap, it spirals inward and goes down the drain due to friction with the walls of the sink. The equivalent source of friction for accretion was assumed to be turbulence in the gas flow, but the origin of that turbulence was a mystery for almost two decades. In the 1990’s, working with Steven Balbus, John identified a powerful instability in magnetized gases that drives the turbulent flow, allowing a detailed understanding of the accretion process. Today, the “magnetorotational instability” is applied to study a wide variety of celestial objects, from accretion disks around black holes to the disks from which stars and planets form.  


John’s research accomplishments were widely recognized. He was the 1993 recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize for Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society. He and Steve Balbus shared the 2013 Shaw Prize in Astronomy for their discovery, which included a US $1 million cash award. He was awarded the Hamilton Chair in Astronomy in 2014. 


John also contributed fundamental insights in computational astrophysics. With the recognition that many fluid dynamics processes are too complicated to understand with pencil and paper calculations, he was a leader in developing numerical algorithms to solve for the evolution of magnetized fluids, allowing a detailed study of their behavior. With these computational tools, he and his collaborators were able to study disk accretion of gas, the formation of jets, the efficiency of disks in emitting radiation, as well as the effects of general relativity on the gas flow. As an expert in high-performance computing, he advocated for the Rivanna computer cluster which now serves the large-scale computing needs of many UVA researchers. 


John’s sense of humor was legendary. Whether it was at faculty meetings, or the Kovalenko dinner speeches, or even the Chairs and Director’s meetings for the College, you always knew he could find something funny even in the driest topics and most arcane details. He will be sorely missed. We wish his wife, Katherine Holcomb, and all his family comfort at this challenging time. 


Phil Arras
Astronomy Department Chair

UVA Today Article:

John F. Hawley, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences and John Downman Hamilton Professor of Astronomy, died of cancer on December 12, 2021 at his home in Earlysville.  He was 63.  He had a distinguished career as an astrophysicist.  He won the Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1994.  In 2013 he shared the Shaw Prize in Astronomy with former UVA colleague Steven Balbus for their work on the mechanism underlying gas accretion around black holes.  He was a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society. In 2006 he was appointed chair of the Astronomy Department; in 2012 he moved to the Dean’s office as Associate Dean for the Sciences.   In 2020 he took on his final administrative role as AD for Academic Affairs.  He was a brilliant scientist, an able administrator, and a loving husband, son, brother, and uncle.  His sharp sense of humor was legendary.  He is survived by his wife, Katherine Holcomb, brothers Steve (Eileen) and Jim (Amy), sister Diane (Bernie Robe), nephew Aaron and niece Jamie, and mother Jeanne Hawley.  He was predeceased by his father, Bernard Hawley. In lieu of flowers please send memorial contributions to the CASPCA, Caring for Creatures (Palmyra), The Nature Conservancy, or a similar charity of your choice.

Galaxy Collisions Preview Milky Way's Fate

November 23, 2021

Professor Aaron Evans and co-author Lee Armus discuss what might happen when the Milky Way meets the Andromeda Galaxy in this month's Scientific American:


Image: Forecasted future: An illustration shows a possible view of the merging Milky Way–Andromeda system as seen from Pluto, which may get tossed to the galaxy's outskirts, along with the solar system. Credit: Ron Miller

Research Corporation Backs a Radical New Approach to Astronomical Imaging

August 25, 2021

A 12-megapixel digital camera can capture an image composed of roughly 12 million pieces of information and is all most of us need to take stunning vacation photos or family portraits suitable for framing. However, if you’re an astronomer taking detailed images of celestial bodies that are thousands to millions of light years away, it’s nowhere near good enough. But thanks to a Cottrell SEED Award from the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement, UVA astronomer Steven Majewski may be one step closer to developing a technology that makes taking vivid panoramic snapshots of distant stars and galaxies something more than just the stuff of science fiction.  More here:

Nitya Kallivayalil invited to Awesome-Con

August 23, 2021

Nitya Kallivayalil was invited by NSF to sit on a Dark Matter/Dark Energy panel at Awesome-Con ( this past weekend. Other panelists included Joe Pesce (moderator), Zohreh Davoudi, Carter Hall, Marc Kamionkowski and Charles Keeton.

Girls Exploring the Universe (GETU) 2021 Virtual Summer Camp

July 20, 2021

We are now accepting applications for the Online Girls Exploring the Universe (GETU) camp. This program offers an astronomy focused experience for middle school-aged kids primarily in Albemarle and nearby counties. We will be fully online this year, with activities spanning two weekends in mid August from 1-3pm EDT each day. Each camp day will offer a different set of activities and campers are free to join any or all days of the camp as their schedule allows. We will be preparing materials for the hands on activities ahead of time, so campers only need an internet connection to join in!

When: August 14th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd from 1 - 3 pm.
Where: Online

Please apply by July 24th, 2021 so the materials have enough time to be assembled: Campers will have the option of picking up or receiving their kits by mail. .

Seed Funding for Stellar Populations Research in the Local Universe

July 14, 2021

The Owens Family Foundation has selected Nitya Kallivayalil as a recipient of their funding in the amount of $84,000 per year over a three year period. This gift will be used to further her research in near field cosmology and will enable the hiring of a prize postdoctoral fellow to work on resolved stellar populations in the local universe. The Owens Family Foundation has historically funded groundbreaking basic science research that is high risk high reward with a focus on methodological developments.

Xinlun Cheng wins a Jefferson Graduate Fellowship

May 28, 2021


The Jefferson Scholars Foundation has announced the names of 29 students selected to receive one of its graduate fellowships; 25 selected to receive a Jefferson Fellowship and four selected to receive a National Fellowship. More information here:

Amina Diop named as first John F. Angle Graduate Fellow in Astronomy

May 20, 2021

The Astronomy Department is pleased to announce that Amina Diop has been selected as the first John F. Angle Graduate Fellow in Astronomy. The Angle Fellowships are funded by a gift from Carol Angle and Fritz Angle. They honor Dr. John F. Angle MD (below), who is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in vascular and interventional radiology at UVa. He specializes in minimally invasive techniques to treat peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysm disease, venous insufficiency, venous thromboembolic disease, dialysis access maintenance, and cancerous tumors.

Amina Diop is entering UVa as a new Ph.D. graduate student this fall. She got her BA in Astrophysics & Arabic from Williams College, with a semester at the University College London. Amina is from Senegal, and has studied Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Math and Physics at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research interests are astrochemistry and protoplanetary disks. For the last two years she has been working on an extensive research project, investigating the vertical structure of turbulence in the protoplanetary disk around the young star DM Tau. Amina modelled the emission from the molecular ion N2H+ coming from the disk. She won the Beth Brown Memorial Award for her poster on this subject at the National Society of Black Physicists’ annual meeting earlier this year. Nitya Kallivayalil, co-Chair of Graduate Admissions said, “I was really impressed with Amina’s poster at the conference, and upon chatting with her further, I found out that her true passion lies in radio astronomy, and that she wants to be a radio astronomer. I think she has made a wise decision, therefore, to come to UVa for graduate school, and we are thrilled that she chose us.” Amina also has extensive teaching and outreach experience and is interested in helping minority students both in the US and overseas.