Astronomy & Astrophysics

The Rosette Nebula (NGC 2247) is a vast molecular cloud region located 5,000 light years from Earth. This image was created by undergraduate student Chris Michael using images taken at the Van Allen Observatory’s Gemini telescope located in southern Arizona.

The Rosette Nebula (NGC 2247) is a vast molecular
cloud region located 5,000 light years from Earth.
This image was created by undergraduate
student Chris Michael using images
taken at the Van Allen Observatory’s
Gemini telescope located in southern Arizona.

We study a wide range of astrophysical phenomena, from solar system plasma physics to x-ray emission from black hole accretion disks. We maintain strong synergistic collaborations with both the space physics and plasma physics groups in the Department. 

The astrophysics group operates the Iowa Robotic Observatory and is a collaborating member of the VERITAS ground-based very high energy gamma-ray telescope array.  Faculty, research staff, and thesis students regularly utilize a variety of ground-based astronomical observatories including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's  Very Large Array, and VLBA, and the Arecibo Observatory. We are also frequent users of space-based facilities including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory, and the Hubble Space Telescope.  In addition, we have active programs in the development of radio and X-ray instrumentation and are currently involved preparing a rocket flight for soft X-ray spectroscopy.

Casey DeRoo

X-ray astronomy; X-ray telescopes & instrumentation; optical design; machine learning for astronomy

  •  X-ray spectroscopy of supernova remnants
  •  Instrument design / raytracing for sounding rockets, CubeSats, Explorer, and flagship missions
  •  X-ray grating fabrication and testing
  •  Grazing incidence mirrors
  •  Identification of unusual astronomical sources using machine learning
  •  Students interact with collaborators at NASA, Harvard-Smithsonian, and other institutions around the world
Hai Fu

Observational extragalactic astronomy, galaxy mergers, starburst galaxies, active galactic nuclei

Galaxies like our Milky Way are the building blocks of the Universe. After decades of research, we now know that, over the past 13.7 billion years, massive galaxies like our Milky Way have grown from tiny overdensities in an essentially homogeneous universe to large ensembles of stars, gas, and dark matter. But it's a complex process that is difficult to understand, because galaxies do not evolve in isolation and they exhibit large diversities. To make progress in this quest, astronomers divide the galaxy population into various categories at different epoches and study each category in great detail, hoping that eventually we will piece together a coherent story.

Previously, Prof. Fu studied quasar extended emission-line regions, the coevolution of black holes and galaxies, double-peaked emission-line active galactic nuclei, and the brightest dusty starforming galaxies. He has observed these facinating objects with integral-field spectroscopy, adaptive optics, radio interferometers, and space-based telescopes. Currently, his research interests focus on understanding the effects of galaxy mergers with SDSS-IV/MaNGA integral-field spectroscopy, probing dark matter in high-redshift star-forming galaxies with gas kinematics from ALMA, and tracing the large-scale gas supply of high-redshift starburst galaxies with quasar absorption-line spectroscopy.

Refereed Publications: All ReferredMajor ContributionGoogle Scholar.

Kenneth G. Gayley

Radiative transfer; radiation hydrodynamics; spectral line diagnostics.

  • Theory Topics: highly supersonic stellar winds accelerated by photon pressure; radiation transport in stellar atmospheres and disks; how massive stars lose mass prior to a supernova
  • Simulation Topics: colliding winds in hot-star binaries, radiation transport in outflows from stars
  • Students may participate in international collaboration in stellar research
  • Students' experience in writing dynamic numerical simulations prepares them for positions either as academic postdocs or as software specialists in industry
Jasper S. Halekas

Experimental space physics.

  • Space plasma physics around moons and planets and in the interplanetary medium
  • Development of spaceflight instrumentation to make high-resolution measurements of charged particles
  • On-campus facilities include a laboratory for spaceflight hardware assembly and calibration
  • Students participate in the development of spaceflight instruments, in collaboration with engineers, scientists, and technicians at Iowa and partner institutions
  • Students  also analyze spacecraft data from the Earth, the Moon, Mars, the Sun and solar wind, and outer planets
  • Students gain skills in spaceflight hardware development, programming, and data analysis
 Gregory G. Howes

Theoretical and computational plasma physics.

  • Turbulence in the magnetized plasmas found in laboratories, space and astrophysics
  • Analysis of spacecraft data from the turbulent solar wind
  • Students develop skills including high-performance computing on the nation's fastest supercomputers, analysis of simulation and observational data, and development of simple analytical models to interpret results
  • Students also interact with group members including a postdoc and collaborators around the world
Philip E. Kaaret

X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy and instrumentation; CubeSats; black hole binaries; galactic X-ray halos.

  • X-ray binaries, ultraluminous X-ray sources, intermediate mass black holes
  • Galactic X-ray halo, missing baryon problem
  • Instrumentation for space-based astronomy, CubeSats
  • Students build instruments for launch into space
  • Students use satellite based observatories
  • Students develop skills in electronics, data analysis, and programming
Cornelia C. Lang

Radio astronomy; x-ray astronomy; observational study of interstellar medium and galactic center.

  • Observations are multi-wavelength, using both radio interferometry and X-ray imaging/spectroscopy
  • Topics include the interstellar medium of the galactic center: magnetic and X-ray phenomena, stellar winds, and ionized and molecular gas
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA), the Owens Valley Millimeter Array (OVRO) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Students develop skills with data reduction and analysis using astronomical software and they develop programming skills using IDL
  • Students supported by a pre-doctoral research fellowship may reside at the VLA and interact with staff radio astronomers
  • Students also interact with other astronomy faculty
Steven R. Spangler

Radio astronomy; plasma astrophysics; space plasma physics.

  • Solar corona, solar wind, interstellar medium
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope
  • Students also encouraged to carry out instrumentation-development projects with the 4.5 meter instructional radio telescope on roof of Van Allen Hall
  • Students develop skills in numerical methods, writing code in Python and other languages