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



Mergers and Acquisitions

January 23, 2017

A Wall Street Journal article features the work of a team of NRAO and UVA astronomers led by Sabrina Stierwalt. The team has found seven isolated groups of dwarf galaxies that shed light on how large galaxies grow from the merger and accretion of smaller dwarf galaxies.

Read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.

Read more in the UVA Today Article.

If you want the full set of details, you can read their full article at astro-ph arXiv:1701.01731

UVA Astronomy Team

UVA APOGEE-South Team Installs Spectrograph

January 20, 2017

A team of astronomers and instrument scientists are installing the APOGEE-South spectrograph at the Irénée du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. APOGEE-South will measure the chemical compositions and motions of hundreds of thousands of stars in the southern sky as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to help astronomers answer questions about the formation of our Milky Way Galaxy. 

Read the full article, and watch the video, at UVA Today

UVA Astronomy People

Setting An Example

January 17, 2017

Rukmani Vijayaraghavan, a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia, was interviewed by the website 500 Women Scientists about her Girls Exploring the Universe summer science camp for middle school girls. 

Read the full interview at 500 Women Scientists.

UVA Astronomy People

Kelsey Johnson interviewed after NSF talk

December 22, 2016

UVA astronomer Kelsey Johnson delivered a talk at the National Science Foundation's Distinguished Lectures series titled "How were the most ancient objects in the universe formed?". After her talk, she was interviewed by the NSF about her research, "Dark Skies, Bright Kids", and her views on the future of astronomy.

Read the full interview on the NSF website

Apogee Telescope


November 16, 2016


A 4,000-pound astronomy instrument called APOGEE-2, built in the last two years at the University of Virginia, will soon be crated up and transported on an 8,000-mile, two-month journey to its new home at the Las Campanas Observatory in the northern Chilean desert. The instrument – an infrared spectrograph - is designed to peer through cosmic dust to stars at the farthest reaches of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Read the full article at UVA Today

Wise Girls Program

Kelsey Johnson Inspires the Next Generation at Girls Day in STEM-H

November 10, 2016

University of Virginia astronomer Kelsey Johnson inspired 400 girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health at the first Girls Day in STEM-H at the University of Virginia's College at Wise.

Read more about the event in the article in the Kinsport Times-News

Space Galaxy

Balloon Flight to the Stratosphere

September 22, 2016

On September 22, 2016, an astronomy student led balloon project carried a custom payload to an altitude of 111,028 feet above Central Virginia. The goal of the project was to give undergraduate students experience with designing, building and flying a balloon based research platform. 

Click here to read more about the flight in UVA Today.

Click here for more information on the flight, including many amazing pictures.

UVA Astronomy Class

Minority Students Rave About Science Research

August 10, 2016

Assistant Professor of Astronomy Nitya Kallivayalil has started a five-year collaboration with Spelman College, the nation’s oldest historically black college for women in Atlanta, as part of the NSF Early Career Development Award she received last year. Across the University of Virginia, about 20 minority students are participating in research programs in science, technology, engineering and math through a collaboration between UVA programs including Kallivayalil's program, the Leadership Alliance, and the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation.

Read the full article at UVA Today.

UVA Astronomy People

Searching the Kuiper Belt

June 10, 2016

UVA astronomer Anne Verbiscer helped find a new target in the Kuiper Belt, the icy body 2014 MU69, for the NASA New Horizons spacecraft. New Horizons will pay a visit to 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019.

Read the full article at UVA Today.

UVA Astronomy People

Posthumous Paper Resolves Century-Old Mystery of How Stars Evolve

May 19, 2016

The discovery of subgaint stars opened the field of observational stellar evolution. Alan Sandage (Carnegie Institution) teamed up with Steven Majewski (University of Virginia), and Majewski’s student, Rachael Beaton (now a postdoc at Carnegie Institution) to delve into the history of the discovery of subgiant stars. They showed that the observations of the subgiants discovered at the Mount Wilson Observatory in 1935 were remarkably accurate. Sandage was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, yet still worked feverishly on the project right until he died in 2010. Majewski and Beaton received his last handwritten comments two days later. And they doggedly continued the work in his honor.

See more at Gizmodo

UVA Astronomy Class

First Annual Astronomy Undergraduate Research Symposium

May 9, 2016

On April 22, 2016, seven Department of Astronomy undergraduates participated in the department's first Annual Astronomy Undergraduate Research Symposium. Their names and poster titles are listed below. These students presented their research to the rest of the department in a fashion similar to larger astronomy conferences, such as an AAS meeting. From professors to fellow undergraduates, the event was very well attended and provided an excellent opportunity for the students to share and discuss their projects, while celebrating their accomplishments. We were also joined by a high school student from Central Virginia Governor's School, Ryan Henderson, whose presentation is also listed below. As part of the symposium, the most exceptional poster was awarded a prize and this year's winner is 4th-year Avery Bailey. Congratulations to Avery and the rest of the presenters!

Bridget Anderson
"An XMM-Newton X-Ray Observation of the Galaxy Cluster Abell 3653: The Origin of High Velocity BCGs"

Avery Bailey
"The Merger Dynamics of Abell 2061"

Alex Bixel
"Measuring the Dark Matter Content of Galaxies with SALT"

Shawn ‘Tom’ Booth:
"Investigating the Spatial Structure of HCN Emission in Comet C/2012 F6 (Lemmon)"

Arvind Gupta:
"Measurement of Distances to RR Lyrae Stars in the Sagittarius Dwarf Core"

Duy Nguyen
"False Positive Detection within the APOGEE Catalog of Extrasolar Companion Candidates"

Christopher Wiens
"The Importance of Compact Group Environments Over Cosmic Time"

Ryan Henderson
"Measuring the mass of the black hole in galaxy NGC 5765b using H2O maser spectra"

UVA Astronomy People

UVA Astronomers Find Oasis in Brown Dwarf Desert

April 21, 2016

In a new paper published last month in The Astronomical Journal, a team of astronomers led by Department of Astronomy graduate student Nicholas Troup has shown that the brown dwarf desert is not as barren as previously thought. UVA faculty members Steven Majewski, Michael Skrutskie and John Wilson in the Department of Astronomy collaborated on the findings as part of the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment, itself part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Astronomers had long expected that the universe would be teeming with brown dwarfs, and plenty have been found in isolation. Until recently, however, so few brown dwarfs have been found orbiting close to other stars that astronomers referred to the phenomenon as the “brown dwarf desert.” This created a problem for theorists, who have been scrambling to explain why astronomers have found so few. So when Sloan Digital Sky Survey astronomers started sifting through their data looking for companions to stars, they never expected such a bountiful harvest. While only 41 close-in brown dwarf companions to stars had been detected previously, in their new work Troup and the Sloan astronomers report the discovery of 112 more.

Read the full article at UVA Today

UVA Astronomy Fair

Undergraduate Student Martine Lokken Wins Minerva Award

April 18, 2016

Undergraduate Astronomy-Physics major Martine Lokken has won a Minerva Award from the University of Virginia College Council. Minerva Awards fund scholarly projects that will be conducted by College students during the summer. The award is named for the goddess Minerva, found on the University seal, who is the Roman symbol of knowledge and creativity, and it is this spirit that the Council hopes to promote with this award.

UVA Astronomy Scientists

Illimitable: Pluto Up Close

March 23, 2016

UVA Today has an outstanding feature article on the New Horzions mission to Pluto featuring UVA scientists Anne Verbiscer (Astronomy) and Alan Howard (Environmental Sciences).

Read the Article at UVA Today

UVA Astronomy People

Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt Honored as an International Rising Talent

March 18, 2016

UVa and NRAO scientist Sabrina Stierwalt will be internationally honored at the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards, held in Paris on March 24, 2016, as the North American junior representative from across all of the STEM fields. Every year, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program celebrates five outstanding Laureates for their groundbreaking work, exceptional talent and deep commitment to their profession.  


Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt is being recognized for the research she carried out in the Astronomy Department at the University of Virginia on galaxy evolution. She is conducting the first systematic study of gas dynamics and star formation in interacting dwarf galaxies, with the goal of better understanding how stars formed in the early universe. In its second year, the International Rising Talents program recognizes the achievements of women who are in the early stages of their scientific careers and provides a 15,000 euro grant along with mentorship support and international exposure. The International Rising Talents were chosen from among the recent winners of the For Women in Science fellowships awarded locally by L'Oreal subsidiaries worldwide, including the L'Oreal USA For Women in Science fellowship program. 


Read news release:

L'Oreal and UNESCO Recognize Two U.S.-Based Women Researchers for Scientific Achievements

Science Pluto Cover

Science Highlights New Horizons Results

March 17, 2016

Anne Verbiscer (Astronomy) and Alan Howard (Environmental Sciences) are co-authors on several papers in the 18 March 2016 issue of Science which highlight results from the New Horizons Pluto Flyby.  The cover image reveals detail on Pluto's surface, as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft. At left is the bright, white Sputnik Planum, an informally named plain of nitrogen ice.  On the right are the dark red highlands of Krun Macula which rise 2.5 kilometers above the plains. The image was created using several exposures of New Horizons' Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with color data from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). 

Photo from NASA/Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

UVA Astronomy Faculty

Graduate Student Wins ARCS Scholarship

March 10, 2016

Graduate student Trey Wenger has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Metro Washington chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation, "a nationally recognized nonprofit organization started and run entirely by women who boost American leadership and aid in advancement of science and technology." Trey will use this funding to support his research on the morphological and chemical structure of the Milky Way.

Read more about ARCS here!

UVA Astronomy Lab

VICUNAS Astronomy Partnership with Chile

February 26, 2016

The Univesity of Virginia's Center for Global Inquiry has awarded a grant to support the Virginia/Chilean Universtiy Network for Astronomy, or VICUNAS. The program leverages UVA’s 20 years of collaboration in Chile with a new, state-of-the-art infrared spectrograph – called APOGEE-2 – that will soon yield an unprecedented survey of the southern half of the Milky Way. Astronomy professor Steve Majewski and senior research scientist John Wilson are working with seven Chilean universities to operate the instrument, sharing time, knowledge and expertise and exchanging students.

Read the UVA Today article


Astronomers Find Six New Millisecond Pulsars

January 26, 2016

UVA graduate student Thankful Cromartie used the Arecibo Observatory to observe unidentified gamma-ray sources in the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope source catalog and discovered six new millisecond pulsars! Five of the six pulsars are in interacting compact binaries (with periods < 8.1 hr), while the sixth is a more typical neutron star-white dwarf binary with an 83-day orbital period.

Read more on!

UVA Astronomy People

Green Pea Galaxy Provides Insights to Early Universe Evolution

January 13, 2016

Newly formed dwarf galaxies were likely the reason that the universe heated up about 13 billion years ago, according to new work by an international team of scientists that included University of Virginia astronomer Trinh Thuan. The finding opens an avenue for better understanding the early period of the universe’s 14 billion year history.

Read the UVA Today article

Apogee Map

The First Global Age Map of the Milky Way Galaxy

January 8, 2016

Astronomers have measured the age of 70,000 stars across the Milky Way using the University of Virginia led APOGEE instrument and put the results into a galactic map.

Read the BBC article


Dark Skies, Bright Kids receives Packard Foundation Award

December 13, 2015

We are excited to announce that Dark Skies Bright Kids has been given a generous grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for the next three years to run week long summer astronomy programs designed at reaching more rural communities in southern Virginia. We are very grateful for their support and look forward to the opportunity to bring astronomy education and outreach to more communities across Virginia! 

This program will allow us to take full advantage of the wonderfully dark skies southern Virginia has to offer. In fact they are some of the darkest skies on the east coast! Watch this space for more updates about specific details for this summer's programs.

Apogee Map

Seeing Stars: UVA Leads the Development of APOGEE-2

December 10, 2015

UVA astronomers are designing and building a $6 million instrument, APOGEE-2, that will allow astronomer to measure the motions and chemical compositions of hundreds of thousands of stars at distances up to 25,000 light years.

Read the full article at UVA Today

Charlottesville Ed Murphy McCormick Observatory

Human Computer

December 5, 2015

Wonderful UVA Virginia Magazine video and article about our friend, Caroyl Beddow Gooch, recalling her work her in the 1940s. Thanks to Molly Minturn for capturing Caroyl's delightful character in this piece.

Everyday Einstein

‘Everyday Einstein’ Sabrina Stierwalt Brings Everyday Science to Everybody

December 4, 2015

Did you know that a UVA Astronomer is your Everyday Einstein? Learn more about Sabrina and her podcast in this article from UVA Today.